In a lot of ways, Orlando City is where the Riverhounds hope to be one day.
In the big picture, Orlando is playing its final season in USL Pro with a move to MLS set for next season. The Riverhounds’ ownership hasn’t been shy about long-term MLS hopes, though that is still a climb that could take several years, if not decades.
For coach Justin Evans and the rest of the Riverhounds, though, the short term is more important. In that regard, Orlando is leading USL Pro and sport the league’s only unbeaten record.
The Riverhounds, meanwhile, find themselves alone in last place, the only team in the league looking for its first win.
After an off week, the Riverhounds will resume that search tonight when they take on Orlando City at Highmark Stadium.
“Obviously, any time you’re going to play against Orlando, with them going to MLS and the aura they have kept around their camp, for sure, [it’s exciting,]” Evans said.
“I think more so to the fact that we just had a weekend off, the guys are just geared up and ready to go. They want to go against somebody else.”
For as far apart as the two clubs might seem based on results, though, they could actually be closer on the field. The Riverhounds have been beset with injuries and suspensions over their past few games, but at full strength in the season opener March 29, they gave Orlando City all it could handle in a 1-1 draw.
That game even could’ve ended in the Riverhounds’ favor. Orlando scored on a controversial play in which Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap suffered a head injury that has kept him out since.
“I thought we were very disciplined,” Evans said of the first matchup. “Everyone knew their roles [and] stuck to them. We played together as a team and I thought we played well.
“That’s what we look to do again [tonight].”
The Riverhounds also should get a boost from forward Jose Angulo, who returns after missing the team’s 0-0 draw against Charleston April 26 because of a death in his family. Without him, as well as fellow forwards Collins John (suspension) and Jhonny Arteaga (injury), the Riverhounds struggled offensively against Charleston. John and Arteaga still will be out, but Angulo’s return should help.
Evans said Angulo, who leads the Riverhounds with two goals, isn’t quite at full fitness because of the time missed, but noted, “He’s a player who can get you a goal or three in the blink of an eye.”
A goal or two from Angulo would go a long way toward helping the Riverhounds get a tally in their win column. It won’t be easy going against the undefeated league leaders, but Evans and his players feel confident they have the talent to come out with a win.
‘There’s good teams all over this league and they’re definitely one of them,” Evans said. “In our camp, we think we’re one of those teams too. It’s time for us to step up and start answering the bell.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.