For most of the year, Orlando City looked like one of the favorites to take home the USL Pro crown while the Riverhounds had to scratch and claw just to make the playoffs.
When the teams meet in a first-round playoff match tonight in Orlando, Fla., though, the underdogs should have no shortage of confidence.
The Riverhounds did not allow a goal to Orlando City in two games and will look to remain unbeaten against the Lions this season as the USL Pro playoffs begin.
The Riverhounds tied Orlando City, 0-0, July 17 in at Highmark Stadium and earned a crucial 1-0 win Aug. 3 in Orlando that helped propel them into playoff contention.
Riverhounds (10-8-8) vs. Orlando City Lions (16-4-6), USL Pro quarterfinals, 7:30 p.m. today, Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
Coming off 1-1 draw Saturday with USL Pro regular-season champion Richmond in regular-season finale. ... Ended the season with a 5-2-2 stretch and finished seventh in USL Pro. ... Forward Jose Angulo won the league's scoring title and midfielder Matt Dallman finished with the most assists in the league. ... Won, 1-0, Aug. 3 at Orlando. The teams drew, 0-0, July 17 at Highmark Stadium.
Ended the season Saturday with a 1-0 victory against Charlotte. ... Lost to Richmond, 2-0, Aug. 14 to lose the USL Pro regular-season title. ... Finished second in the league with 54 goals. ... Posted 12-2-0 record at home.
After starting the season 0-4-1, the Riverhounds went 10-4-3 the rest of the way and earned some big wins in the final weeks to secure the seventh seed in the eight-team postseason field.
The Riverhounds were sparked by a 10-game unbeaten streak in the middle of the season but nearly fell out of playoff contention after a couple of home losses in early July to Charlotte and Los Angeles. The scoreless draw against then-league leader Orlando City provided a spark, though, and coach Justin Evans' squad went 4-2-1 in USL Pro matches to end the season.
The hot finish meant the Riverhounds qualified for the playoffs after missing out in 2012. The team made the league semifinals in 2010 and 2011 but has never advanced beyond that.
On the other sideline, Orlando City faced no such growing pains this season, going 10-1-2 to open league play. The team faltered down the stretch, though, with a 6-3-4 record since its blistering start.
That dip in form coincided with the loss of forward Dom Dwyer. Dwyer joined Orlando City on loan from MLS team Sporting Kansas City, but was recalled June 27.
At the time of Dwyer's departure, he was averaging 1.15 goals per game. Despite playing in just 13 games, Dwyer finished tied with Riverhounds forward Jose Angulo for the league lead in goals.
Orlando City also has been without midfielder Jamie Watson -- second on the team with 10 goals -- and goalkeeper Jon Kempin since early July, but both could return tonight.
For fans not making the trek to Orlando, the Riverhounds will have a playoff watch party at Highmark Stadium in Station Square. Admission is free and the game will be shown on the stadium's video board.
The winner of the match will face the winner of the Harrisburg-Charlotte quarterfinal in the semifinals.sportsother
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.