Slowly but surely Riverhounds new coach Bob Lilley is rounding out what has the look of a solid roster.
With the announcement Friday that the club has signed Joe Greenspan, who excelled in 10 appearances on loan to Pittsburgh in 2017, the Hounds now have its core group of players to build around.
The six-foot-six Greenspan provides an imposing yet cerebral presence as a central defender. His time with the Hounds last season. Greenspan was part of four clean sheets in 10 starts and finished third on the club with 66 clearances (despite playing less than a third of the Hounds games). The New Jersey native’s efforts saw him earn Team of the Week honors twice, as well as earning a Player of the Month nomination for the month of May.
Acquired by Minnesota from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for the club’s third round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft prior to last season, Greenspan made four appearances, including three starts, for the Loons.
Still, the Loons didn’t have Greenspan in its future plans, and didn’t opt to exercise their option on his expiring contract on December 1, leaving him available for anyone to pick-up.
Since his first few games here last April, Hounds fans coveted Greenspan for his solid play, and he quickly became a favorite.
Now he’ll be here for a full season.
And now, Lilley’s assembled an 11-man core that would certainly be a formidable starting unit if you rolled them out in a 4-3-3 formation on the pitch as currently constructed.
Forwards (3): Kay Banjo, Romeo Parkes, Chevaughn Walsh
Midfielders (3): Kenardo Forbes, Christiano François, Kevin Kerr
Defenders (4): Tobi Adewole, Jordan Dover, Joe Greenspan, Raymond Lee
Goalkeepers (1): Dan Lynd
A few days before the Hounds began making signings official, I met with Lilley in a conference room at Highmark Stadium, and everything he outlined to me has come to fruition.
Lilley said he was going to sign a combination of nine or ten returning Hounds and what he described as key ‘complementary’ pieces from his most recent Rochester Rhinos squad that he coached in 2017. Sure enough, Lilley signed Banjo, Parkes, (already had Walsh under contract), Kerr — and now added maybe the most productive player the Hounds have ever had on loan besides Zach Steffen or Anthony Arena. The remaining players – Forbes, François, Dover and Lee come from the Rhinos.
Now, going into free agency, as he set out to do, Lilley found a solid MLS-caliber player to solidify his back line and someone he believes can take on a leadership role here in Pittsburgh in Greenspan, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate.
But Lilley’s far from being done.
As part of the plan to bolster the roster, there will likely be about four or five more free-agent announcements in the course of the next few weeks leading up to the Hounds opening of training camp.
In addition, Lilley will turn to his little notebook of players he has on his list and invited a specific number of trialists — probably somewhere around six or seven guys to prove themselves in the first few weeks of camp.
This is Llley’s way of finding his next 11 — and building depth to what appears to be an already strong roster.
The transfer market will be busy — in fact — as Lilley said in our meeting it’s actually much busier between now (MLS combine is this weekend — and yes Lilley will be there) and through early March. There are going to be a lot of players who are invited to MLS camps, and those that won’t make rosters.
And today, the USL and the Hounds announced the home openers for all teams — including the first two games for the club. While the USL season begins the weekend of March 17, the Hounds will wait until the following week to start the season on Saturday, March 24, when they travel to Music City U.S.A. to be the opponent for the first-ever home game for Nashville FC.
Then the Hounds will be back in Pittsburgh for its home opener on March 31, in a Keystone Derby match-up against Penn FC (formerly Harrisburg City Islanders).
The USL officially announced on Friday that the league will be split into two equal conferences (Eastern and Western) of 16 teams each.
Here’s the breakdown of teams along with the full schedule of home openers:
ATL UTD 2
Bethlehem Steel FC
Louisville City FC
New York Red Bulls II
North Carolina FC
Ottawa Fury FC
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Toronto FC II
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
LA Galaxy II
Las Vegas Lights FC
OKC Energy FC
Orange County SC
Phoenix Rising FC
Portland Timbers 2
Real Monarchs SLC
Reno 1868 FC
Rio Grande Valley FC
Sacramento Republic FC
Saint Louis FC
San Antonio FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Swope Park Rangers
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
2018 USL Home Openers (Home team listed first)
Friday, March 16
Rio Grande Valley FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. Portland Timbers 2
Saturday, March 17
Charleston Battery vs. FC Cincinnati
Charlotte Independence vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. LA Galaxy II
Fresno FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Louisville City FC vs. Nashville SC
New York Red Bulls II vs. Toronto FC II
North Carolina FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
OKC Energy FC vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Orange County SC vs. Phoenix Rising FC
Reno 1868 FC vs. Swope Park Rangers
Sacramento Republic FC vs. San Antonio FC
Sunday, March 18
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Richmond Kickers
Saturday, March 24
ATL UTD 2 vs. New York Red Bulls II
Las Vegas Lights FC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Nashville SC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Phoenix Rising FC vs. OKC Energy FC
Richmond Kickers vs. Indy Eleven
San Antonio FC vs. Saint Louis FC
Swope Park Rangers vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Bethlehem Steel FC
Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Saturday, March 31
Indy Eleven vs. FC Cincinnati
LA Galaxy II vs. San Antonio FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. Penn FC
Real Monarchs SLC vs. Portland Timbers 2
Saint Louis FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Toronto FC II vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Saturday, April 7
FC Cincinnati vs. Louisville City FC
Wednesday, April 18
Portland Timbers 2 vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Saturday, April 21
Penn FC vs. Charleston Battery
Ottawa Fury FC vs. North Carolina FC