The Pittsburgh Riverhounds have finally been granted their 2018 USL schedule.
The wait irritated many fans — including the Steel Army, the Riverhounds’ faithful fanbase. However, when the schedule was announced, there weren’t many disappointments.
The only standout disappointment, and the Steel Army will agree with me here, is that a rivalry game against Penn FC — the former Harrisburg City Islanders — in Harrisburg will be held on a Wednesday.
Worst part? That’s the final showdown between Penn FC and the Riverhounds for the Keystone Derby Cup. But hold on, we’ll get to Penn FC later on.
Other than that, the schedule is packed with big tests for the Riverhounds and some new opponents.
Here are five games to catch this season, whether you’ve been a longtime fan of the team or you just got on the Pittsburgh soccer train.
5. Atlanta United 2 on April 28
Atlanta United FC experienced an incredible first season in Major League Soccer, the division above the Riverhounds’ USL, in 2017.
With the number of signings they have already made this offseason, there’s no doubt that they won’t experience a sophomore slump. Their USL side should be in good hands too.
Coached by Scott Donnelly, a former U-18 Men’s National Team head coach, the team will begin it’s inaugural season in USL this year. The team has already signed AJ Cochran, Diego Lopez, Jack Metcalf and Yosef Samuel.
The roster is close to being done, according to Carlos Bocanegra, the general manager of the club. Bocanegra is one of the reasons why this match will be so appealing; he was a former defender on the U.S. Men’s National Team.
His scouting talent is second to none, and it will show during Atlanta United 2’s first season.
The match will be held at Highmark Stadium on Saturday, April 28.
4. North Carolina FC on July 4
In the two seasons prior that I’ve covered the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the club has hosted a match at Highmark Stadium on Independence Day.
The trend continues this season, with North Carolina FC making a trip to Pittsburgh. This match is eye-catching due to the holiday and also a new team making its first appearance in the city.
North Carolina FC joined the USL after leaving the NASL. This is the club’s first season in the USL, but they’re no stranger to Division II soccer.
Despite the new trip to Pittsburgh, a familiar face might be making his way back. Macklin Robinson, North Carolina FC goalkeeper, featured for the Riverhounds on a short loan stint last season.
North Carolina FC hasn’t announced if Robinson will be back this season but did announce the re-signings of George Marks and D.J. Taylor. The team also announced that former Liga MX goalkeeper Austin Guerrero would join for the upcoming season.
The Independence Day match always brings a large crowd to Highmark Stadium, so with a big team like North Carolina FC joining the fold the seats in Highmark should be filled.
3. FC Cincinnati on October 6
There’s always excitement in the air when Pittsburgh teams play Cincinnati teams.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals have an intense rivalry, almost garnering bigger attention that the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens matchups.
Cincinnati doesn’t like Pittsburgh, and the feeling is mutual. That extended from the football field over to the soccer pitch at Highmark Stadium.
On Oct. 6, the Riverhounds will host their final regular-season match at home against FC Cincinnati.
FC Cincinnati is coming off an interesting offseason. After falling to Nashville in the bid for MLS expansion, FC Cincinnati is brushing themselves off and preparing for another USL season.
This season is Alan Koch’s second year at the helm for FC Cincinnati. After an impressive first year under former head coach John Harkes, FC Cincinnati fell to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the first round of the USL playoffs.
In the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the team fell to the New York Red Bulls, MLS side, with an aggregate score of 3-2.
While FC Cincinnati’s league opponent is Louisville City FC, the nature of Pittsburgh-Cincinnati rivalries has extended to include the Riverhounds. The Hounds haven’t had the best luck against FC Cincinnati, but with head coach Bob Lilley leading the pack, there could be a swift change.
2. Nashville SC on May 30
I’ll leave my rant for how Nashville shouldn’t be allowed to have a soccer team — let alone get MLS expansion — for another column, or even a different website.
As much as I hate to admit, this match is incredibly important. Testing out new teams in the league is huge, especially when it’s Lilley’s first year in charge of the Riverhounds.
Sure, some of the players will look familiar, including Nashville SC’s Taylor Washington, who started almost every game for the Riverhounds in 2017, but many won’t seem so familiar.
Despite not liking the city of Nashville — don’t get me started — I have a ton of respect for Washington. He was one of the kindest players to talk to before and after a match, and he really provided a ton of help to a struggling Riverhounds defense. I wish him the best in Nashville, and it will be good to see him on the Highmark Stadium pitch May 30.
However, this is a match that could even provide early playoff pictures. The Riverhounds are in the dark when it comes to Nashville SC, and won’t have much tape on them. Despite this, the team needs to come out firing on all cylinders.
Sure, the team knows what Washington is capable of, but what about the other 10 players on the pitch with him? This is a match that can’t be taken lightly.
1. Penn FC on March 31 and May 26
Two out of the three matches against Penn FC will be held at Highmark Stadium in 2018.
The Riverhounds claimed the Keystone Derby trophy in 2017 and the drive to keep the trophy in the City of Champions is extreme.
What’s going to be important about these matches, despite the fact that they’re against a major rival, is making sure new players know the importance.
Kevin Kerr, Chevaughn Walsh, Kay Banjo, Romeo Parkes, Joe Greenspan and Tobi Adewole were all around last season. However, Lilley, former Rochester Rhinos head coach, has brought down former Rhino players Kenardo Forbes, Christiano François, Dan Lynd, Raymond Lee and Jordan Dover.
And that’s just the roster moves so far.
So far, looking at the list of players, there is a huge responsibility for Kerr to make sure his team is focused and prepared to go into battle against the former Harrisburg City Islanders team.
What do you think?
Is there a particular game you’re looking forward to? Comment the game on the schedule (available by clicking here) and why you’re excited about it.
Follow @RachaelMcKriger for all Pittsburgh Riverhounds coverage.