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U.S. Open Cup Preview: Crew vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Columbus kick off the 2019 Open Cup campaign against a struggling Riverhounds team

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The international break came at an ideal time for Columbus Crew SC. The team hobbled into the break with a 2-2 tie against New York City FC in Zack Steffen’s final match with Columbus. Prior to that game, the Black & Gold struggled to get results with one win and four losses in the month of May.

But the break does not mean a lack of games. Instead, Columbus begins its 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run on Tuesday evening, taking on USL Championship side Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

Pittsburgh had struggles of its own as the team has found it difficult to finish games off this season. The Riverhounds have a goal differential of 0 with 15 goals scored and 15 conceded so far this year. Pittburgh has a 2-7-2 record so far in 2019 and currently sits at 12th in the USL Championship table.

For Crew fans, there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about in the Open Cup in previous years. Under Gregg Berhalter, the Black & Gold never won more than one match in any Open Cup. Under the new regime, winning in the Cup will be more of a priority for Porter. He made the semifinals of the tournament in 2012 with the Portland Timbers and will look to spark momentum for his team in this time of transition for the club.

Let’s take a look at the Black & Gold’s opponent for this clash and explore what Crew fans should look forward to in this match.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds at a glance

Form: W-D-W-L-D

Scoring leader: Neco Brett (5)

Assist leader: Ryan James (4)

How they play:

The Riverhounds typically line up in a 5-3-2 formation with the fullbacks often joining the attack on the wings and stretching the field. In the Open Cup, they have also experimented with a 3-4-3 look, opting to go with wingers instead of the attacking midfield role that Kevin Kerr typically occupies.

Pittsburgh rotated their squads considerably in the two previous Open Cup rounds against the Dayton Dutch Lions and Indy Eleven, opting to give some of their bench players some valuable game time and resting some starters as they try to find momentum in USL play.

Against MLS competition, however, expect the Riverhounds to play a full-strength lineup as they look to do what every lower division team dreams of and take down their MLS foes.

Aside from their scoring leader Neco Brett and assist leader Ryan James, Crew fans should also keep an eye for the Riverhounds longest-tenured player in Kerr. The midfielder is the leader on the pitch for the Riverhounds and has the experience to put on a good showing.

How the Crew win

The Black & Gold have been bitten with the injury bug this season. The team lost several starters and key contributors throughout multiple stretches already. Thankfully for the Crew, fullback Harrison Afful is set to make his return after being out since he suffered a broken jaw against Atlanta United back in March. The Ghanian defender is sure to give the team a boost as they look to take their first steps in a world without Zack Steffen, who is moving to Manchester City, and Federico Higuain, who was lost for the year with a torn ACL.

With Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes on international duty, there will be plenty of fresh faces for Columbus fans to see. Players like Artur, Eduardo Sosa, Luis Argudo and whomever is in goal will have a lot to prove to cement their spots moving forward in the lineup. The Crew will have to be more solid in the back than the team has been in the past month and avoid silly mistakes against a Pittsburgh team who will be looking to capitalize and counter on any opportunity the Black & Gold give them.

With players such as Pedro Santos, David Guzman and David Accam all available and no MLS match this weekend, there should be a strong attack fielded against Pittsburgh. If Columbus can be solid and disciplined defensively there should be no reason that the home side can’t find the back of the net and move on to the next round of the Open Cup.

How to watch

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Venue: Mapfre Stadium; Columbus, OH

Streaming: ESPN+