Championship co-leading goalscorer Tyler Pasher of Indy Eleven is going to be center stage against on Saturday night as his side hosts Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Lucas Oil Stadium. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
INDIANAPOLIS – Indy Eleven hosts Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in a notable interdivision matchup that will not only play a role in determining where each club finishes in its respective group this regular season, but could have an important role to play should the two sides meet again in the playoffs.
Indy enters with a six-point lead at the top of Group E and is well on its way to a third consecutive postseason appearance. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, tops Group F on goal difference ahead of Hartford Athletic, but both sides currently hold a six-point advantage of the teams below the playoff line leaving the Hounds in solid position for a postseason return.
As importantly in the bigger picture, however, is the four-point lead Indy holds over the Hounds – and the two games in hand the Hounds hold over Indy – in the Eastern Conference’s overall standings. Victory for either side would be a big step forward to hosting a postseason game between the two clubs this year, should they meet again.
After the drama of July’s meeting at Highmark Stadium, here are three key storylines going into Saturday night’s clash.
It had been more than two calendar years since Indy Eleven had lost in the Championship regular season at Lucas Oil Stadium, but two weeks ago Sporting Kansas City II became the first team since Ottawa Fury FC on July 4, 2018 to take victory against the Boys in Blue on their home turf. After last week’s 1-1 draw on the road against Louisville City FC, Indy is going to be eager to get back into the win column and start a new streak to try and better the 28-game undefeated run and 11-game winning streak it had put together previously. If it can do so while recording its first clean sheet in five games, it would also potentially be a plus for goalkeeper Evan Newton, who with his next shutout would become the first goalkeeper in the Championship’s history to record 50 in the regular season for his career.
It might still be a bit of a work-in-progress, but there’s no denying the potential that Hounds forwards Ropapa Mensah and Steevan Dos Santos have as a combination. “There were moments where they were able to play off each other, but that’s what we’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks,” said Hounds Head Coach Bob Lilley this week. “We think they both pose problems for teams individually, but we think they can play off each other more. We have two very good forwards who should be able to get better.” Both have scored multiple goals this season, with Dos Santos racking up four goals in five appearances at a rate of a goal every 58.8 minutes. The Cape Verde forward wasn’t quite back to full fitness when these teams met on July 22 and came on with just over 20 minutes to go during Indy’s late 1-0 win. The size of both players, and the contrasting styles they look to operate in with Mensah aiming to stretch the field and Dos Santos holding up play, could be a real handful for opposing defenses, even one as good as Indy’s back line.
Thanks to his outstanding start to the season – which on Thursday garnered him the Championship’s Player of the Month award for July – all eyes were on Tyler Pasher when Indy headed to face Pittsburgh the first time around. By his standards, the Canadian had a quiet night as Pittsburgh’s defense did well to limit his clear looks on goal over the course of the game. Of course, Pasher then brought everyone watching online to their feet with one of the most spectacular individual goals the Championship has seen to grab victory for the visitors in the 97th minute, a moment that if his candidacy for Most Valuable Player continues to progress will be the one that will be the resounding finale to any highlight reel for his candidacy. Pasher has been sensational so far this season, and the Hounds are going to have to keep a close eye on him all night if they’re to come away with the win they seek.