When he arrived in Pittsburgh in November, Riverhounds SC head coach Bob Lilley said one of the things that appealed to him was the work being done by the Riverhounds Developmental Academy.
On Wednesday, the Hounds pro team and the Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA) announced the official launch of the club’s Pathway Program, which will integrate select RDA boys who have been identified as top performers into the professional team training environment.
“This program is years in the making,” The club’s Sporting Director Jason Kutney said. “It represents the culmination of tremendous efforts to raise the standard on our boys’ side and an overarching vision to directly link youth to pro.”
Serving as a link between the professional team and RDA, this initiative is designed to create a structured and direct on-field developmental relationship between the two channels. The player pool will initially include current members of the Under-17 and 18/19 RDA Boys ECNL sides, but will also stretch into both the Under-15 and Under-16 age groupings.
While this announcement serves as positive news and certainly very appealing to select players from the RDA, it still may be quite some time before there’s a direct pipeline from the Academy to the pro club in terms of producing its own players. The Riverhounds have never had a player from its still relatively new youth academy (founded in 2007) — play with its pro team.
But hey — you’ve got to start somewhere — right?
Still, for the Hounds organization, its Academy and quite possibly for many young aspiring soccer players from our region, this is an important starting point for building its own future generations of players.
Lilley said upon his arrival that Pittsburgh provided greener pastures after being with a franchise in Rochester that struggled to align its academy with his pro team and spoke highly from the beginning of his tenure here that the foundation that the Hounds and team owner Tuffy Shallenberger have established — and the unlimited promise of soccer reaching a much higher ceiling in this area.
“Seeing everything that’s being done with the youth here. We lacked that model in Rochester, and Jason (Kutney) and the staff here have done to grow that. The new field being put in (in Montour Run). Corporate sponsors that are on board. It’s a different Pittsburgh than five, seven, eight years ago,” Lilley boasted.
Identified “Pathway Players” will be brought into professional team training sessions on a rotational basis, which will be established and managed by Kutney in conjunction with the Riverhounds SC professional team staff. These players will be cycled into select opportunities, allowing time to nurture long-term potential in young athletes who demonstrate the qualities necessary to advance to a higher level of competition.
Due to the morning training times of the professional team, the majority of sessions in 2018 will take place through the summer while schooling is on hiatus. The rise of non-traditional educational programs, such as cyber school, may offer additional options to keep players involved on a year-round basis.
“The intention of the program is to introduce players to the intensity of the professional environment,” Kutney said. “This will alter our landscape entirely, fostering an unparalleled stimulation to player development within our entire club.”
“We are fortunate to have a very experienced staff working with our Academy players, many with high level playing backgrounds,” Lilley said. “They are continually raising the bar for our players and the next step is to start integrating them with the pro team. I, along with the other first team coaches, are excited to help facilitate the further development of these players on their soccer journeys. We are optimistic that in the near future some will merit opportunities to play with our top team.”