Mark Asher Goodman went out to training to get the scoop on the Riverhounds offseason roster progress, including an update on the injury to Joe Greenspan (pictured above).
As each and every day of the pre-season passes and the regular season opener against Tampa Bay Rowdies draws closer, the Hounds roster comes further into focus. A lot of pieces to the puzzle have been set, as the club currently has 15 players signed for 2019, and many likely opening-day starters are already set. With less than a month to go, though, the club still has some fairly big decisions left to make, particularly in defense and at goalkeeper.
There’s a whole lot of information to report from this past week with the Riverhounds: a recent signing, some trialist updates, an injury report, and some goalkeeper speculation. Here we go:
Hounds sign Caleb Smith
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds announced the signing today of defender Caleb Smith to a one-year contract with a club option for the 2020 season.
Smith first started with Riverhounds SC as a trialist during the team’s first week of preseason camp. Previously, he played collegiately at Southern Methodist University (SMU), where he started 17 of his 18 games played as a senior in 2018.
“Caleb is a technical left back who is comfortable on the ball, likes to get forward and does a solid job defending,” head coach Bob Lilley said. “He has had a good training camp, and we’re excited to have him for the 2019 season.”
Smith was one of only three trialists that the club retained after week 2 and into week 3, so it seems clear that Bob Lilley and the technical staff had taken a shine to him. The other two trialists that have played for the entirety of pre-season with the Hounds are forward Devyn Jambga and defender Jordan Skelton.
Smith will battle with off-season signing Ryan James for playing time at left back. However, with the demanding USL schedule, and with Coach Lilley’s propensity to mess around playing various personnel in new positions and try out different formations – particularly a five-man back line – we should expect to see Smith get a good chunk of minutes on the pitch this year.
Trialists out, Trialists in
The Riverhounds front office rotated out a number of players invited to trial with the club in week 1 and week 2, and brought in a fresh crop of players to look at for this past week.
When asked about it, Coach Lilley explained this decision. “Sometimes we just need to look at some other players. Sometimes maybe we decide that we know that player, and some player has got to look at another opportunity.”
It isn’t a guarantee that a player dismissed from trials is done for good, as the Riverhounds may have a few spots left in the final days before the season starts, and no clear frontrunner still in camp that would best fill the spot. But usually, if a player’s trial ends, it is likely the last Hounds fans will see of them in gold and black. Lilley said, “There’s a couple of players (from the first week of trialists) that are still in consideration. But generally, once they’re out, they’re out.”
Bob feels like the new crop is exciting and dynamic, and is optimistic that some of them will pan out as players for the Riverhounds. “We brought six new guys this week that in my opinion are all an upgrade on what we had the first two weeks. There’s some very good technicians in that group that give us a different ability creatively and in the final third.”
Lilley continued, “(Wednesday’s) training was the best we’ve had by far. We will know a lot more about the group this weekend. ”
The list of departing trialists includes Tommy Buono, Tam Dimairo, Eddy Enowbi, Mark Forrest, Ryan Gallagher, Nadeer Ghantous, David Greczek, Brennan Ireland, Kosti Moni, Hakan Redzep and Oliver White.
The inbound trialists this week are Nazeem Bartman, Kevin Itabel, Sammy Kahsi, Ben Lundgaard, Daniel Mukuna, Dani Rovira, Uchenna Uzo, and Matias Vidangossy. For a deeper dive into the newbies, check out John Krysinsky’s breakdown of the invitees in his ‘pre-season notebook.’
Amongst those leaving, it is worth noting that David Greczek is a goalkeeper. That leaves the Hounds with only one goalkeeper signed for 2019.
Who’s gonna man the pipes this year?
I was pretty sure that, with only one keeper signed to the roster, David Greczek was almost certain to get a job with the Riverhounds for 2019. But he was dismissed without a deal. Clearly Bob Lilley is still looking for the right guy to stand in the goalmouth.
This week Ben Lundgaard joined the Riverhounds in training from the Columbus Crew. Lundgaard was signed to an extension in the offseason by the Crew, so his presence in camp with the Riverhounds is an indication that a loan deal is in the works.
Columbus has four goalkeepers on the squad; Zach Steffen, Joe Bendik, Jon Kempin, and Lundgaard. Steffen was sold to Manchester City for a $9 million transfer fee, but has been loaned back to Columbus until mid-summer. That means that the Columbus Crew have no place on the roster for Lundgaard until Steffen departs, and even then would likely prefer Lundgaard be someplace where he could see regular game action, rather than sitting on the bench all year behind two experienced MLS keepers. As long as Kempin and Bendik are healthy, it’s a fair bet that Lundgaard will be with the Riverhounds for the duration of the 2019 season.
I asked the Riverhounds for a comment on Lundgaard, but the team preferred not to reveal any specific details of a possible pending deal. Nonetheless, it stands to reason that an official loan announcement from the Crew and the Riverhounds will take place sooner rather than later.
Joe Greenspan Injury Update
Center back Joe Greenspan sent a wave of panic through Steel Army at the team’s pre-season match against Gannon University on February 10 when he went sky-high for the ball against an opposing player and came crashing awkwardly to the turf. Greenspan was slow to get up, holding his arm gingerly, and was later seen along the sidelines in a sling.
Of all the players to suffer injury in pre-season, losing Greenspan would probably rank as the worst option for the Hounds. The 6’6″ Greenspan was outstanding for the Riverhounds in 2018. He was twice named to USL Team of the Week and was a finalist for USL Defender of the Year. Greenspan was a huge piece of the team’s success in 2018, and losing him for an extended period in 2019 would severly impact the Riverhounds in a negative way.
Lilley explained the injury was a shoulder sprain. “I think he’ll be training in the next 10 days to 2 weeks. That’s what we’re hoping.”
The coach explained that in order for the doctors and the training staff to rule Greenspan fit and ready for full training, he would need to pass a battery of strength tests that proved that his shoulder had sufficiently recovered. Greenspan is currently permitted only to do running and light work in the gym until his shoulder is back in good shape.
“We’re hopeful he’ll be ready for the first game of the year.”
Current Riverhounds Roster:
Forwards (3): Neco Brett, Steevan Dos Santos, Christian Volesky
Midfielders (6): Mouhamed Dabo, Kenardo Forbes, Noah Franke, Kevin Kerr, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Anthony Velarde
Defenders (5): Tobi Adewole, Jordan Dover, Joe Greenspan, Ryan James, Caleb Smith
Goalkeepers (1): Kyle Morton