As we enter the final month of the regular season, the playoff picture in the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division is beginning to crystallize. Miami FC–along with Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Charlotte–have separated themselves from the rest of the division. Now it’s simply a matter of positioning.
In many ways, Miami controls its own destiny. Miami FC (13-7-6, 45 pts) currently sits in third place, just three points behind the second-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds (with Miami still holding a game in hand). And they will host Pittsburgh twice at FIU Stadium in the next 14 days, including Saturday night’s match.
A Miami victory would pull the Orange and Blue even with their Steel City rivals. And with the surging Charlotte Independence breathing down their necks, Miami can ill afford to let down their guard.
Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (14-7-6, 48 pts) have managed to maintain their spot behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the standings for most of the second half of the season. But their grip has started to loosen with Miami and Charlotte both challenging the Riverhounds for that pivotal second place position, which would ensure home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Miami and Pittsburgh have met twice so far this season–both times at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh. Their first meeting ended in a 1-1 draw on June 12. When they clashed again on Aug. 11, Miami erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 3-2 victory on the road.
Since the first tiebreaker in the USL Championship is based on head-to-head points earned in regular season, a Miami victory would give them the edge over Pittsburgh should the two teams finish with the same number of points at the end of the season.
Russell Cicerone and Hugh Alexander Dixon have been the go-to attackers for the Riverhounds all season. Cicerone has established himself as one of the league’s top goal scorers. He’s found the back of the net 14 times while adding seven assists to his name. Dixon, meanwhile, is right behind him with nine goals and also has seven assists.
And don’t forget about Kenardo Forbes. The Jamaican midfielder has six assists this season and loves to deliver dangerous crosses into the box (he is third in the league with 144 crosses). He can give opposing defenders headaches trying to contain him.
Keys To A Miami Victory
Devon “Speedy” Williams, who will join the Jamaican national team for their upcoming World Cup qualifying matches, scored twice in Miami’s comeback victory. Meanwhile, former Riverhound Cristiano François has scored twice against Pittsburgh so far this season. Both players will be worth keeping an eye on Saturday night.
Ariel Martinez has been a strong presence for Miami since returning from injury, earning a spot on the USL Championship’s Team of the Week after scoring a goal and tallying two assists in the club’s 6-1 rout over Loudoun United. Martinez now has five goals and a team-high seven assists this season.
Miami managed to keep Cicerone and Dixon off the scoresheet last time around, but still found itself trailing during their last meeting. Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow has been in top form over the past few weeks, and he will need to stay sharp against one of the more well-balanced attacking teams in the league.
After a tough midweek loss to Charlotte, Miami bounced back in a big way. They put up six goals against lowly Loudoun and enter the final month of the season with confidence. Miami also added some reinforcements to their lineup that give them the depth to make a deep playoff run.
Pittsburgh has appeared vulnerable at times in recent months, and Miami should be able to take advantage of that in front of a home crowd.
Miami FC 3 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1
WHO: Miami FC (13-7-6, 45 pts) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (14-7-6, 48 pts)
WHEN: Saturday, October 2 // 7:30 pm EST
WHERE: FIU Stadium (Miami, FL)
- Miami FC – None
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds – Caution Accumulation Warning: Dani Rovira