The Columbus Crew os set to take the field in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 on Wednesday night as the team makes a short trip to face USL Championship side Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Pittsburgh advanced to this round after an impressive 1-0 victory on the road against the New England Revolution. In addition to this victory, Pittsburgh is unbeaten in the team’s last six matches and has won three straight, including their victory vs. the Revs.
Columbus looks to rebound in this game after a disappointing Hell Is Real Derby defeat this past weekend against FC Cincinnati and advance to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2010. Who will the Black & Gold face if they do advance? Their neighbors to the south for another Hell is Real Derby.
Here’s what you can expect to see Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds at a Glance:
Record: 4-5-2, 17 points
League Form: W-W-D-D-W
Leading Scorer: Albert Dikwa (9)
Assist Leader: Kenardo Forbes (3)
Player to Watch: Albert Dikwa
What’s one of the most important ingredients necessary for am upset in cup play” Having a player who can score at any moment. Pittsburgh has that with Dikwa.
Dikwa is in fine form so far in 2023 with nine goals in just 11 appearances so far this year. Dikwa joined Pittsburgh in 2020 and has revitalized his career with 25 goals in 70 matches, 20 of those goals have come in the 2022 and 2023 seasons. In fact Dikwa has 20 goals in his last 35 appearances.
This red-hot form is due in large part to Dikwa’s role in the Riverhounds’ attack. Dikwa is not usually asked to play with his back to goal when Pittsburgh is in possession. Instead, the forward has the freedom to move around the penalty box and find space to receive the ball.
Dikwa is a classic poacher in front of goal and rarely takes a lot of touches while excelling at one-touch finishing. His movement in and around the 18-yard box makes him extremely hard for defenses to track and can often lead to easy finishes. Dikwa is adept at finishing with both feet and his head, making him a threat at all times for the Black & Gold on Wednesday night.
How Pittsburgh Riverhounds play:
Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley is an institution in USL history. Lilley is in his 25th year as a head coach and his sixth in Pittsburgh. Lilley has turned the Riverhounds around and has guided the team to the playoffs in four straight USL Championship campaigns. Thanks to all his experience, Lilley has seen it all throughout the course of his career and is able to adjust to any opponent and situation his side faces.
Pittsburgh has played many different formations thus far in 2023, including a 3-5-2, a 4–4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 but seems to have settled on a 5-4-1 in recent weeks. Despite their frequent changes to their formation, the Riverhounds principles of play remain the same.
Defensively, Lilley and Pittsburgh look to be very compact and clog the middle of the field. The team will rarely press high up the field and instead will defend in a mid-block with pressure starting about three-fourths of the way up the field from their own goal.
When the Riverhounds do apply pressure, the team looks to force the ball wide and keep the middle of the field compact and without space for their opponents. This makes Pittsburgh one of the tougher sides to break down in the USL Championship, conceding only 11 goals in 14 matches and none so far in the Open Cup.
In possession, the Riverhounds look to push numbers forward with the ball quickly. While they are capable of keeping possession and will do so at times, Pittsburgh often looks for the quickest way forward to attack. This suits the team’s attacking players like Dikwa and provides space to attack. When the Riverhounds aren’t able to progress the ball right away, they will look to spread out the field and utilize their central midfield players to move the ball from side to side in an attempt to create openings.
How the Crew can win:
The Crew can advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals for the first time since reaching the final in 2010. In addition to advancing in the competition, the Black & Gold need to get back to winning ways after their defeat last Saturday. This is a very tricky match for Columbus, on the road against a side that is strong at home and doesn’t give up many goals. Despite this, there are a few things the Crew can do well to advance and set up another Hell is Real Derby in the quarterfinal.
Let’s take a look at these:
Start strong. The first 20-25 minutes of this match could be super important for the Black & Gold. There will likely be a big crowd and raucous atmosphere in Pittsburgh and the Riverhounds will no doubt be up for the game If Columbus can control the play, dominate possession and even take the lead early, it will go a long way toward taking the crowd out of the match and settling things down. The Crew did this incredibly well in the last round against Loudon United and need to do so again Wednesday.
Play through the middle. As discussed, the Riverhounds look to clog the middle of the field and force their opponents out wide when defending. This will be particularly concerning for the Black & Gold who look to penetrate through the center of the field as much as possible. The good news? Columbus will likely have an extra player in this area of the field Wednesday night. Thus, it is vital for the Crew to find this extra player in possession. If the Black & Gold can do so, they’ll be able to unbalance Pittsburgh defensively and create space to attack.
Defend the counter. This is arguably the most important part of the Crew’s game every week under head coach Wilfried Nancy. Due to Nancy’s playing style and formational preference, the counter attack will always be a viable option for the Black & Gold’s opponents. That includes mid-week Open Cup games against a side that’s solid defensively and has pace up top. If the Crew can keep Pittsburgh from counter attacking effectively throughout the match, it’s going to be very difficult for the Riverounds to score.