Riverhounds SC plan to bang it in more often this year in order to lift the cup.
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Over the past weeks, there’s been a lot of emphasis on the ‘who’ of the 2019 Riverhounds. Last week I profiled the players Coach Bob Lilley had targeted in the offseason. Yesterday, John Krysinsky detailed the trialists that may join the squad for the upcoming campaign.
On Tuesday, we began to get a picture of the ‘how’ of the Riverhounds – how they intend to play in order to lift the 2019 USL Cup.
It’s short and simple to explain: be more effective in the attack, while not retreating an inch from the 2018 teams best-in-the-league defensive effort.
“We want to keep our defensive principles and defensive records in terms of not allowing goals”, explained Assistant Coach Dan Visser.
The 2018 Riverhounds conceded just 26 goals on the year, or 0.77 goals per game. That’s a defense that was six goals better than the next-best club in the league.
Part of whether the team will continue to be dominant defensively will be determined by the success of two new Riverhounds, Ryan James and Steevan Dos Santos. Both played for Bob Lilley in Rochester, and it was apparent at training that they will be key defensive additions. James lined up at left back in the intrasquad scrimmage and locked down his side completely, while contributing to the attack as well.
Here’s Hounds fullback Ryan James pressing the attack in training today:
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) February 5, 2019
Meanwhile Dos Santos expressed to me how important defending was to him. Dos Santos said “I’m a team player. I work hard for the team. If you don’t concede, you don’t lose.” The importance of defending front-to-back is not something you hear often from a center forward.
It isn’t enough to defend well again, though. The team also wants to score more goals in 2019. And they have a plan for how to go about it.
Visser told me “We want to do a lot more in the attack. Some of that is some different players with maybe a little bit more sophistication.” That mirrors what Coach Lilley told me earlier this month: “We want attackers who are good at making runs in behind and getting into goal scoring positions.”
Off-the-ball play for forwards and wide midfielders will be a key part of getting more goals for the Hounds this season. In training, that meant that Tuesday’s session was entirely focused on fast attacks. The team spent over an hour on ‘5 v 3’ and ‘7 v 5’ drills, and practiced weaving wide players into the middle and flushing central attackers out wide. Coach Lilley repeatedly exhorted his men to play every pass forward and keep rushing into gaps, and the whistle blew a few times when the pace of the attack because overly cautious or lateral.
Coach Visser explained that the team will likely play in all manner of formations this season- sometimes using a four-man backline and sometimes a five-man backline. But the goal of getting around the outside and behind the opposing defenders is the priority regardless of the formation the coaches select each game.
With a mind to produce a team better at getting in behind, the team added attacking midfielder Anthony Velarde in mid-January. The California-native was exceptional in his four-year NCAA Division II career at producing assists. Velarde told me “My game is breaking lines.”
Dos Santos is excited for the chance to play with Coach Lilley again for one big reason: hardware. “I like to play for Bob because I won my championship with him.”
Coach Visser also comes back in 2019 with a trophy in mind. “Last year established a bit of a standard and expectation. It was a good season in a lot of respects. But coming into this season I think; at the end of last season, we were disappointed with the way it ended. The goal is a championship.”
Miscellaneous Training Notes
Looking at the tall, beefy frame of Steevan Dos Santos, and knowing that he’s a striker, you might imagine him to be a target forward that prefers to bang in goals with his head. You’d be wrong. The center forward is listed as 6’4″ but tells me “Most of my goals, I score with my foot.” Keep an eye on his boots, kids, and not his noggin…
Dan Visser will have a slightly more elevated role in 2019 due to the departure of assistant coach Mark Pulisic. He told me “I do feel a bit of increased responsibility, which I’m excited about. I really enjoyed working with Mark last year. I’m excited to step into that role and have a little bit more of a voice during training.”…
John Krysinsky noted yesterday that Mark Forrest was drafted 77th by MLS’ Chicago Fire this year. An MLS team that drafts a player, even if they do not elect to sign him, retain his MLS rights for two years. If the Hounds sign Forrest, it wouldn’t affect that as far as I understand. The Fire have an affiliate relationship with Tulsa in USL, but usually that only grants them a few spots on their roster and gives them less flexibility than an MLS team with a full USL “2” team like TFC or Red Bulls. That said, the world of MLS roster rules is pretty darn byzantine and there may be some unknown wrinkles to this arrangement. And that comes from a guy who studies the Talmud on my free time…
The Hounds have just two goalkeepers in training right now: signed keeper Kyle Morton and trialist David Greczek. In 2018 the club started the year with three keepers. I think Greczek probably feels really good about his odds to make the club…
There was talk last season that the club had plans to put down new turf at Highmark Stadium this year. So far, no new improvements have been made to Highmark since last October, and there’s no indication from the club of anything new (yet) for 2019…
Among the trialists at Highmark Stadium this week, four are internationals, although two played NCAA soccer this past fall. Tam Dimairo is from New Zealand, Nadeer Ghantous is from Israel, Hakan Redzep is from Macedonia and recently played in Denmark, and Jordan Skelton is from England…
Additionally, four of the Hounds trialists are 6’2″ or taller – Greczek (GK) is 6’2″, Ghantous (CB) stands 6’3″, and Skelton (CB) and Mark Forrest (ST) are both 6’4″. Bob Lilley likes the big guys.