As Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley addressed a room full of media, it was evident that he was struggling to contain his level of optimism for the 2019 season.
“I’m not going to predict a championship but…”
Lilley’s voice trailed off, and he paused in an ocean of silence before finishing his thought.
“…I’m pretty confident we’re going to be in the conversation when all is said and done.”
After getting bounced from the first round of the USL Eastern Conference playoffs by a lower-seeded team, Bob Lilley feels like the pieces are coming together for a run at the top of the USL Championship table. Lilley had the look of a baseball player in the batter’s box that maybe, but not quite, was calling his shot.
“The last time I was part of a 20th anniversary season was in Rochester, and we won a championship.”
The coach explained that last year’s success was a huge stride for the ballclub, but it was only the first of many steps forward.
“Last year we were able to change the culture of soccer and improve the quality. In 2018, we could’ve done even better. We play our seasons to be the very best.”
With the team’s offseason additions of Anthony Velarde, Steevan Dos Santos, Ryan James, and Christian Volesky, the Riverhounds have added some key pieces that will improve a ballclub that finished the previous season with a 15-5-14 record, good enough for 3rd in the USL Eastern Conference.
The Hounds have a full slate of pre-season matches through the month of February in which to find the right pieces amongst a number of talented trialists. There are 14 trialists with the team looking for a spot. They would be added to a Hounds roster that already contains 14 players under contract.
Among the trialists, 4 are forwards, 4 are midfielders, 5 are defenders, and 1 is a goalkeeper. For contracted players, the Riverhounds have 3 forwards, 6 midfielders, 4 defenders, and 1 goalkeeper.
Lilley elaborated, “We’re currently in pre-season now with a lot of talent. Frankly, we have some tough decisions where we have two players battling out for positions for one spot on the roster. I can assure that our talent overall will be better this year.”
The Hounds will have particularly tough choices to make at fullback. The club has only one left back, Ryan James, and one right back, Jordan Dover, on the roster, and will likely have to choose from four players for only two backup spots.
The Riverhounds might conclude the transfer window with the players in camp right now, or they might look and see what other options are available.
“We’re still in the market. There may be players that become available from MLS training camps. There’s still a few players from overseas that we’ll be looking at possibly bringing in here for a look. I still think we have some significant signings to go.”
A host of former Major League Soccer players are still out of contract with only a few weeks before the MLS season kicks off. A few notable and available players include Mike Grella, Collen Warner, Maynor Figueroa, Kevin Ellis, Travis Worra, Jack McBean, Quincy Amarikwa, Baggio Husidic, Chris Schuler, Tony Tchani and Sal Zizzo.
That said, Lilley feels like the core of a title-contending team is already wearing black and yellow.
“I can take the team we have right now, and we’ll be hard to beat.”
Veteran midfielder Kenardo Forbes that the team is motivated, excited and ready to go, and that the players are inspired by the drive that Coach Lilley has to achieve at a higher level.
Forbes explained with a degree of wonderment towards his coach, “That guy still has that hunger.”