Preview: Riverhounds take on Nashville SC in an important Eastern Conference matchup

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Preview: Riverhounds take on Nashville SC in an important Eastern Conference matchup

Chris Cowger

Chris Cowger

Chris Cowger

Zachary Somma, Contributor

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NASHVILLE– The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (14-4-9) travel down to Tennessee to take on Nashville SC (16-7-6) in a battle between two top Eastern Conference teams.

Recapping the Hounds

The Riverhounds enter this matchup sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, with 51 points thanks to an amazing stretch these past few weeks. Out of the last 12 games for the club, they’ve only lost twice. Aside from those loses, the Hounds won eight games and tied the other two, earning a good amount of points in the process. With only seven games left in the regular season, the Hounds look to be in a good position to make the postseason, as they have a 12 point lead over the 10th place team, Birmingham Legion FC (11-12-6). Their latest match was a 1-0 victory at Highmark Stadium versus the Charleston Battery (8-9-11), with forward Steevan Dos Santos scoring the lone goal for the Riverhounds.

Scouting Nashville SC

Nashville SC will be the toughest opponent that the Riverhounds have to face for the rest of the regular season. Nashville currently sits in third place in the USL Eastern Conference with 54 points, only two points behind the two top teams. Much like the Riverhounds, Nashville enters the game also having won eight of their last 11 games. Nashville’s offense largely runs through one main striker, Daniel Rios, and is not spread out, unlike the Hounds.

Players to Watch

Neco Brett (PIT)

A former RMU Colonial, Brett is the main striker for the Riverhounds and main offensive threat. He enters the matchup with a team-high 10 goals, which puts him 5th in the Eastern Conference for goals. He is also tied for third on the team with four assists. Keep an eye out for him around the net, as nine of his ten goals have come from within the box. He, along with fellow forward Steevan Dos Santos, will be the main leaders on offense for the Hounds, and it will be critical that Brett has a good performance against the tough Nashville defense.

Ryan James (PIT)

It could be a bit of an emotional night for defender Ryan James as he makes his return to Nashville after playing for the squad in 2018. The former Bowling Green product has been a defensive stalwart for the Riverhounds, leading the team in interceptions( 65) and tackles (76). He and the rest of the Hounds’ defense has a tough task ahead of them to shut down the potent Nashville offense, but James looks to lead the charge in that department.

Daniel Ríos (NSH)

James and the Riverhounds defense will have to focus in on Daniel Ríos if they want an opportunity to win this game. Ríos leads the Eastern Conference in goals with 17 and is in second place in shots with 66. Ríos is chasing history as he only needs another three goals to become the first USL player to score 20 goals in multiple seasons. With Nashville only having five games left in their season, expect Ríos to get the ball as often as possible as he chases both the record and to help his team fight for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Lebo Moloto (NSH)

Luckily for Ríos, he has one of the better passers in the league to get him the ball in Moloto. The 29 year-old from South Africa leads the Eastern Conference with nine assists and has an impressive 80.4% pass success rate this season, with that rate going up to 89.4% in his own defensive end. Once the ball is on his foot, expect him to look up the field for Ríos or another forward for a quick break out.

Prediction

This match has some very important playoff implications, depending on the result. A win for Nashville would put them very much in contention for first place in the Eastern Conference, while the Riverhounds would likely be stuck in fourth to sixth place. However, a win for the Hounds puts them in contention with Nashville for a top-three seed for the upcoming playoffs. Either way, this matchup should be a tough preview for what’s to come in the playoffs. I’ll predict a 1-1 draw between the two sides, as both teams have the skill and motivation to keep each other in check.

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