When arriving for the Riverhounds first preseason scrimmage on Saturday at Highmark Stadium, as the players were warming up on the field, something didn’t look quite right.
There was someone different wearing the number 10.
That is the number that’s been worn by Kevin Kerr since he arrived in Pittsburgh since 2013 — but Kerr, who re-signed with the Hounds in December, wasn’t wearing the number 10.
Instead, it was Phil Fives, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, attended North Allegheny High School and later excelled at both University of Akron and Indiana University, who was wearing arguably soccer’s most iconic number, and the number worn by the Hounds team captain the past two seasons. And for the record — Kerr was wearing number 24.
For much of his soccer career the 24-year old from Pittsburgh has played at left outside back and on the wing, and it’s at outside back where Hounds coach Bob Lilley has been giving him a shot to compete for a spot on the roster as a trialist with his hometown team.
“There have been a lot of guys looking for spots, so this whole week has been pretty intense,” Fives said. “There’s a lot of competition. Everyone’s been really putting it on — playing at high level.”
In action both on Saturday and Sunday, Fives asserted himself well.
“I’m a technical player — I’m always looking for passes, that sort of thing, and like to play possession,” Fives explained when describing his attributes.
It’s clear that Lilley is looking for outside backs that can get forward, get the ball deep into the final third and be a part of the attack — as well as be technically sound and strong in defending. The Hounds have already signed two outside backs that played for Lilley in Rochester a year ago in Ray Lee and Jordan Dover.
Along with most of the other non-roster players, Fives got the start in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Spring Arbor University, and played most of the second half in the 3-0 win over Cleveland State.
There were a few sequences where he was able to get forward and send some balls into the box, one in particular against Cleveland State that was played right to Skylar Milne‘s foot in the box, but the shot attempt went over the bar.
After the Hounds completed their second preseason friendly against Cleveland State on Sunday, Fives couldn’t help but reflect and acknowledge how much has changed since he was coming up as a young player in the Pittsburgh area.
“I played most of my academy career in Cleveland (with the Internationals) — traveling an hour and a half, back and forth when I was still in high school — before they had all this stuff going on,” Fives said while pointing to the Highmark Stadium pitch.
At North Allegheny High School, he was a standout player under Bobby Vosmaer earning all-State honors, winning the MVP of the WPIAL All-Star game. Fives went on to a solid college career at both University of Akron, then to the University of Indiana for his final two years.
In his junior and senior campaigns, Fives started 42 games for the iconic Hoosiers program — where he helped IU reach the 3rd Round of the NCAA tournament in his two seasons scoring three goals.
A year ago, after not being signed to any pro team in the United States, Fives made his pro debut abroad, playing for Swedish second division team Nybro.
“All of those experiences were great, and helped me become a better player,” Fives said. “In Sweden, it was totally different. Culturally, how they do things over there — but I learned a lot,” Fives said.
And now, Fives is busting his chops to make a positive impression for the Hounds coaching staff, and chuckled a bit when asked about Lilley.
“It’s been good. He (Lilley) likes to win — clearly — you can tell,” Fives explained. “He’s a very vocal guy. He has the attention of this team — and after the past few years — hoping that he can help bring more success here to Pittsburgh, and that’s a good thing.”
Fives was one of the players who was pulled aside by Lilley, getting instructions and pointers, while play was going on during the game.
Even he stood there listening to the coach and as the play — and ball came to his foot, he calmly played it over to his center back to maintain possession, then quickly refocused on what Lilley was saying.
“You get used to it after while. It’s not the first time a coach is telling you what to do during the game,” Fives said. “All you can do is try to stay focused.”
After the first week, Lilley has already released a number of the invitees, and more will be coming in, but Fives remains in the mix as the Hounds enter the second week of training camp.
Not bad for a kid from North Allegheny.
“It means a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time training, and dedicating myself to doing what I love and want to do,” Fives explained. “So, to be able to come back, play in my hometown, with these guys is a great opportunity.”
WEEK TWO TRIALISTS
Among the trialists that have remain with the Hounds in week two of the preseason include:
Neco Brett, Mouhamed Dabo, Guiermo Delgado, Ritchie Duffie, Fives, Bakie Goodman, Joseph Holland, Skyler Milne, Stephen Okai and Christian Ramos.
Lilley has also brought in the following players on trial beginning Tuesday:
Nick Groenewold (previously with Hume City FC), Stuart Holtusen (previously with Univ. of Akron), Kenroy Howell (was with Hounds last year), Brian James (previously with Toronto FC II), Todd Pratzner (previously with Rochester Rhinos), and Collin Verfurth (previously with Virginia Tech).