The shutout streak continues.

Since the Pittsburgh Riverhounds traveled to Hartford on Aug. 28, the Black and Gold have held their opponents scoreless. They’ve shutout Hartford twice, Loudoun United twice and New York Red Bulls II once. Last Saturday, they edged Loudoun, 1-0, for their third victory over their Group F opponent but it wasn’t easy.

Loudoun put plenty of pressure on Pittsburgh’s back line through the first 25 minutes, and starting goalkeeper Danny Vitiello made two saves on a total of six Loudoun shots. Pittsburgh scored in the 81st minute to escape with the victory and continue its hot streak.

On Wednesday, coach Bob Lilley met with the media via Zoom and discussed Pittsburgh’s third matchup with Hartford on Saturday, the return of Kenardo Forbes and a few other storylines to watch out for as they look to finish the season strong.

Third and final matchup

On Saturday, the Riverhounds will play Hartford Athletic for the third and final time during the regular season. The Black and Gold have already beat and shut out Hartford Athletic twice and have outscored their Group F opponents 8-0.

The Riverhounds have a six-point lead over Hartford for first place in Group F, but both have the opportunity to finish the regular season with 37 points. So, when it comes to capturing the division title, Saturday’s contest is another important one.

“I expect a much tougher game out of Hartford on Saturday than last time,” Lilley said. “I think we capitalized on some of their mistakes. They weren’t great, but they’ve been able to respond both times after we’ve beat them.”

Even in a third matchup, the longtime coach is expecting Hartford to throw something different at the Riverhounds.

During their matchup in Pittsburgh, Lilley thought Hartford played a little conservative. Their leading goal scorer, Hugh Alexander Dixon, who’s has six goals in 11 appearances, came in off the bench in that matchup. Hartford has clinched a playoff spot as well, so Lilley is expecting them to play a little more aggressive Saturday.

“They are in the playoffs, it’s a game they have to have so I would expect them to be more aggressive,” Lilley said. “They have dangerous attacking pieces and they’ll push us as much this game as maybe anyone has this season.”

Midfielder Ryan James has scored four of his five goals this season against Hartford.

“We know we need to be sharp and we know there is a lot to play for,” he said.

The Return of the captain

Captain Kenardo Forbes could be returning to the Riverhounds lineup in the near future.

On Wednesday, Lilley hinted at Forbes returning ahead of schedule and said he could be listed in the 18 for their matchup with Hartford Athletic.

“There is a chance he could be in the 18, I wouldn’t anticipate him starting, but there’s also a chance he doesn’t make the 18,” Lilley said. “That’s a decision that’s forthcoming and we probably won’t make that decision ‘til Friday. But he is on track.”

Lilley said Forbes returned to training Monday and Tuesday but wasn’t going at 100%. Forbes had originally suffered a quad injury during the first 10 minutes of their first matchup with Hartford Athletic on Aug. 28.

The Riverhounds were targeting their final regular season game with Philadelphia Union II as a return date for Forbes.

Johnny on the spot

For the past four games, Danny Vitiello has been a mainstay in net for the Riverhounds. He’s recorded four straight clean sheets.

“He’s been steady. I don’t think he’s had a lot to do, but he has made a few good saves,” Lilley said. “He’s been clean. He’s showed a composure that you don’t always get with young goalkeepers, and I think he’s handled it well.”

But while it’s been Vitiello in between the posts for the Riverhounds, Lilley feels comfortable placing any of his three keepers in the net.

“It’s nice to have a couple guys that have been playing well and have had success,” Lilley said. “Right now, Danny is playing well, but Tomas (Gomez) and Anthony (Mwembia) have been training well and they’ve been pushing each other. So, I’m pretty happy with the goalkeepers overall right now.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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