When the USL season kicked off on March 11, no one could’ve predicted that a Pittsburgh team that lost numerous big stars would win the league.
Charleston and Orange County, bottom-feeders in 2022, weren’t expected to vault all the way up into the top three of their conferences, either. The loss of a signature club in San Diego was every bit as unforeseen. Sticking to the extremes, both Las Vegas and Hartford put up record-setting campaigns by losing so consistently and garnering so few points.
With the regular season complete, eight teams are saying goodbye for the year, while 16 more are moving on to the playoffs next weekend. Who made an impression in the final matchweek, and what tactical choices got them there? Let’s dig in.
1.) Pittsburgh (No change)
Result: D 0-0 at Detroit
Making only a handful of lineup changes after sealing the Players’ Shield last weekend, Pittsburgh really only needed to stay warm ahead of the playoffs this time around. They still looked as stout as ever in the press, denying Detroit City consistently in their classic 5-3-2 press; Robbie Mertz looked especially sharp making a rare start in the midfield. Generally, the Riverhounds looked passive, absorbing pressure comfortably.
When they found the ball, however, Pittsburgh could be sharp. Their moves were rooted in dribbles upfield by the wider defenders in the back line, who would overload Detroit, force rotation toward the sideline, then cut the ball back inside to the feet of Mertz and co. From there, Pittsburgh launched spades of crosses into Albert Dikwa from the channels. Chances weren't necessarily abundant, but this team showed that they can be lethal when they want to be. They must be the favorites headed into the postseason.