By Richard Nightingale
spoi-ler – any competitor, entrant, or candidate who has no chance of ultimate victory but does well enough to spoil the chances of another.
Pittsburgh start their 2017 campaign on Saturday at Highmark Stadium with a match-up against the defending USL champions, New York aka ‘Baby Bulls’. On the face of it not the easiest opening game, but I would suggest that Pittsburgh could have a harder task. New York are an Academy team, high turnover from that 2016 squad and had a very limited pre-season. After close to three months of pre-season Pittsburgh should be chomping at the bit and I would be very surprised if they don’t win this game and secure the three points. Probably 2 – 0.
There are some fundamentals that Pittsburgh will have to execute to realize that victory. In possession, move the ball with pace and forward. New York will give Pittsburgh all the touches on the ball they want as long as they go sideways or back. New York will be very organized and like many successful teams in the modern era not be too worried about amount of possession they have versus realizing the right result after ninety minutes. In many ways we shall see how mature of a team Pittsburgh are, and if in the off-season they have acquired the creative playmakers to open up opponents in the last third.
Set pieces will be critical, at both ends of the field. Don’t give away cheap free kicks around your own box and stay with your markers on corners. I pray Pittsburgh don’t revert to the ‘zone marking’ on corners they implemented last year. No team at any level, anywhere in the world plays it and there is a reason why. Then, when the chances come on free kicks and corners there must be a sense of purpose. At minimum always force a save from the keeper on free kicks and pounce on any rebounds. With corners have belief and die in that box to be first to the ball. Big men need to play their size and command the air.
Eastern or Western Conference, this USL is tough, caliber of players and teams moved on from 2016. Pittsburgh will have to grind out every game and cope with increased road travel. Winning at home and winning early is imperative. Momentum can be a great ally. Pittsburgh will finish mid-table, there will be no Conference Championship and no USL Title. A winning record and run in US Open Cup be a good season. Too many better teams who have invested far more in players. You do finish in most leagues proportionate to how you in invest in a team. Odd rarity such as Leicester in EPL, but normal service is quickly resumed. I don’t know many of the Pittsburgh squad for 2017 and am looking forward to watching this first competitive game on Saturday. They will work hard and play with passion. They need to be physical, relax and enjoy the moment.
Stating the obvious, but if the Pittsburgh keeper plays well by commanding his box and makes a couple of early saves, that confidence will spread through the other ten. New York will be far better going forward than defending, always have some forwards with craft and guile that make great runs in the channels and have speed. We’ll get a pretty good idea how this Pittsburgh back four is going to stand up after the opening twenty minutes.
Brandt has got everything he wished from the organization in the off-season and there are no more hall passes. Talk is cheap as he often opines. Playing well is not the be-all and end-all. The result is. Three points at home, anything else is failure. Fans will accept teams playing ugly and not having the majority of possession. All they remember is the score when the final whistle blows. Then it’s on to the next game until you’ve watched and passed judgment on thirty two.