The Riverhounds were back at it going hard in training this week, as they’re preparing for its season opener at Tampa Bay on March 16.
It’s a little later in the week, but I still wanted to file another edition of the weekly preseason notebook. In this week’s edition, we’ll hear more from one of the team’s newest forwards, Christian Volesky, trialist updates, takeaways from Sunday’s match, vs Bethlehem Steel FC and more.
Volesky seeks return to winning ways
In January, the Hounds added a few proven scorers to the team’s roster, Christian Volesky and Steevan Dos Santos. Both had played under Lilley on the 2015 Rochester Rhinos USL winning squad.
When I brought up that Championship season to Volesky on Sunday, he immediately smiled.
“When you mention the 2015 season, I get goosebumps right away. It was a magical season. Good group of guys. Everyone was bought in. Everyone worked hard,” Volesky said. “It was storybook — to win a championship with that group was special. I don’t know if it will ever be replicated, again. But we have the pieces here, and we’re going to make an honest crack at it. Thus far, this preseason’s been good. Everyone’s fit. We’re looking good. I know what it’s like to play for and what to expect from Bob. This is my third season now with him. I came here wanting a championship, and saw the core group that they had last season have all pieces that can be a championship caliber team. It’s exciting to be a part of it, but we have a lot of work to do. ”
Coming into this season, Volesky has shown that’s he’s a model of consistency, never scoring less than eight goals in any of his previous professional campaigns with Rochester, Saint Louis FC or Oklahoma City FC.
Volesky finished last season with the Oklahoma City Energy after being traded from St. Louis FC. After slow start to the season, Volesky finished with nine goals in Oklahoma City.
In 2017, he signed with St. Louis as a free agent ahead of the 2017 season after leaving Rochester with 18 goals in 2015-16.
“Christian has exceptional movement, great pace and knows how to get behind defenses,” Lilley said after the Hounds signed Volesky. “He’s always active in attacking areas and knows how to score goals. We feel his best soccer is still in front of him.”
A second-round MLS draft pick in 2015 out of SIU-Edwardsville, Volesky went unsigned by the Portland Timbers. He tied for the Rhinos lead in goals during the regular season with eight as a first-year pro.
Returning to play under Lilley though, has forced Volesky to focus on getting back completely on the same page with his old coach.
“I know exactly what Bob wants from before. It’s just getting those old habits to come back. You go away from Bob, and you build habits that are not necessarily bad, but they’re habits that he doesn’t want. So, breaking those quote-unquote ‘bad habits’ and playing under Bob, you want to play as part of a system. You have to play the way he wants you to play,” Volesky explains. “It’s a winning way. It’s a way that’s had a lot of success. I chose to be here, and play for him. Moving forward, it’s something I am going to continue to work on.”
Volesky elaborated on the role of forwards that play under Lilley, and what’s expected.
“We’re definitely playing two ways. Defending is very important. It’s an 11-man unit. When we get on the ball, we want to keep it. We want to possess, make those hard runs into the box. We’ll want to get on the end of crosses, and play in an exciting way that Bob wants that’s going to produce results,” Volesky said.
A season ago, Brett scored 15 goals for the Hounds, yet Lilley seemed focused on revamping what his front line would look like in Pittsburgh this season. Now, with the addition of Volesky and Dos Santos, the Hounds have added two more strikers that are proven finishers and two-way players. Each have scored 10 goals in a season (Volesky in 2016, Dos Santos in 2016, and Brett in 2018).
Volesky feels this is going to work to this team’s advantage this coming season.
“About a week ago, Bob sat us down and told us about our strengths and weaknesses and how we complemented each other. Playing with Steevan is nice and we’ve played together before, and I watched a lot of Neco last year, and I know how he plays too. It’s complementary of all three of us. We all bring something to the table. It’s going to be a fun year. We’re all going to score. There’s going to be highs and lows. Every day in training we can all learn things from each other. Its fun. A good group of guys.”
Ultimately, Volesky believes in Lilley, and believes that this team has a great chance to have a very successful season here in Pittsburgh.
“There are older guys and younger guys. We’ve all bought in and trust in what Bob is doing. It’s pretty obvious he knows what he’s doing and has the right guys to fit his system to do the job. It comes down to knowing, trusting that Bob’s going to put us in position to win,” Volesky said.
At this point, Hounds head coach Bob Lilley continues to keep working invitees in and out of camp, but his list is getting smaller. This week only includes one new addition — a goalkeeper has been added to the mix – Paul Blanchette.
San Jose native played collegiately at Loyola Marymount. in 2018, he made his professional debut playing for PEPO Lappeenranta in Finland, making 18 appearances. Blanchette was previously in camp with DC United in January and early February.
The Hounds finally had a chance to take on a pro opponent, the same team that ended its 2018 season, Bethlehem Steel FC on Sunday.
It was hard to disagree with Lilley’s assessment on Sunday’s performance in a 1-0 win.
“I wasn’t thrilled with the first half,” Lilley said after the match. “Today, the second half was good. I do feel like we’re making strides. We still have a lot of work to do.”
The first half, the Hounds assembled an 11-man unit that took control of possession while working with a very strong wind to its backs. It took a while for them to really string together passes, and create anything dangerous in the final third. There was some decent build-up along the right side that led to a run into the box from the end line by trialist Devyn Jambga that set up a corner kick. A few minutes later, Kenardo Forbes and Bethlehem Steel captain James Chambers exchanged some heated words after a hard collision that knocked down Hounds trialist Nazeem Bartman.
Here’s how the first half group lined-up in a formation that appeared to be a 4-2-3-1 formation:
GK – Ben Lundgaard
LB – Caleb Smith, CB – Tobi Adewole, CB – Jordan Skelton, RB – Jordan Dover
HMF – Thomas Vancaeyezeele, HMF –Kenardo Forbes
AMF – Neco Brett, AMF – Nazeem Bartman, AMF – Devyn Jambga
F – Christian Volesky
Eventually, toward the end of the first half, they started to look sharper as a unit, and it paid off with a great build-up through the midfield that started with Vancayezeele winning a ball, with passes connecting all the way to Neco Brett who broke toward the end line, and waited to set up Christian Volesky‘s one-time volley with a perfectly timed ball to the middle of the box.
As Volesky said after the match, it was another striker (Brett) who knew exactly where the other (Volesky) would be — and it was a terrific finish to a great string of passes originating deep in midfield.
Jambga and Skelton, who’ve been on trial with the Hounds since the beginning of February, were not invited back later in the week.
The second half, the Hounds brought in a different eleven man unit that had the task of playing into a fierce wind. With the lead, they were content to knock it around against the mostly younger Bethlehem Steel FC squad. This group looked a bit sharper than the first group.
GK – Kyle Morton
LB – Ryan James, CB – Uchenna Uzo, CB – Daniel Mukuna, RB – Dani Rovira
HMF – Mouhamed Dabo, MF – Sammy Kahsai, MF – Mathias Vidangossy, MF – Anthony Velarde, MF – Noah Franke
F – Steevan Dos Santos
Players that stood out, included Uzo and James on the back line, as they were effective in limiting Steel FC’s chances. Even when Uzo allowed a Steel forward to get a step behind him, his ability to close down the striker and deny a shot attempt was impressive. The former Phoenix Rising defender will remain in camp this week.
Dos Santos was effective in pressing the Steel back line, and was giving them fits when the ball was played to his feet. A few of Morton’s free kicks that were still making their way toward midfield, being held up by the wind, were targeted for Dos Santos, who uses his big frame effectively to win balls in the air. Dos Santos was fouled a few times. The Hounds had a late counter goal called off, after Dos Santos’ shot was deflected, and Franke knocked it into the back of the net. Franke was caught off side, after the initial shot.
Overall, Franke was extremely active on the right flank, playing effectively both ways, while trialist Sammy Kahsai also stood out, playing along side Mouhamed Dabo in the central midfield. Lilley will want to see more of Mukuna, Uzo and Rovira, as they’ve all been invited back for another week of training with the team.
Center back Joe Greenspan (shoulder injury) was on the field prior to Sunday’s match working with the training staff and doing various drills. He’s still being evaluated, and is currently working his way back, as no timetable has been set for his return to fully training and getting back into preseason game action with the team.
The Hounds have 15 players signed to the roster, and with less than three weeks to go before the season starts, Lilley will be looking to sign another six, seven or potentially eight players.
This week will culminate with preseason matches against the University of Akron (3 p.m. on Friday, March 1 at Highmark Stadium) and Lansing Ignite FC (12 p.m. on Sunday, March 3 at Highmark Stadium).
Akron advanced all the way to the 2018 NCAA College Cup finals, where it lost to the University of Maryland, 1-0. The team also won the Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2018. Among players on Akron’s roster, include David Egbo, former Pennsylvania Gatorade High School Player of the Year when playing at private Kiski School. Egbo led the Zips in scoring in 2018 with 13 goals, also while picking up five assists.
Founded in October 2018, Lansing Ignite FC will have its inaugural season in 2019, competing in USL League One. The club is led by head coach Nate Miller. Click here to get a quick look at some of their initial signings.
Current roster breakdown for 2019 season
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
Invitees returning in week 4
** second week with the Riverhounds # newcomer
** Nazeem Bartman – MF/F, 5-7, 160, Cape Town, South Africa (Myrtle Beach Mutiny)
# Paul Blanchette GK 6-4 195 Palo Alto, Calif. (PEPO Lappeenranta)
** Kevin Itabel MF, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Panetolikos)
** Sammy Kahsai MF, 6-0, 155, Hyattsville, Md. (UMBC)
** Ben Lundgaard GK 6-5 205 Wilmington, Del. (Indy Eleven)
** Daniel Mukuna D 6-1 200 Manchester, England (University of Michigan)
Dani Rovira D 5-9 145 Bogota, Colombia (University of Vermont)
Uchenna Uzo D 5-10 190 Lagos, Nigeria (Phoenix Rising FC)
Tuffy’s Truckin’ Teaser
Riverhounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger had a little fun with the fans and team followers this week. On Monday evening he promised a big announcement on Twitter.
— Tuffy Shallenberger (@Tuffy_Shall) February 26, 2019
After much anticipation from Hounds fans on Twitter, here’s what the ‘Big’ announcement was:
😭 Just a couple more traveling billboards!! pic.twitter.com/PthVBEgA7E
— Tuffy Shallenberger (@Tuffy_Shall) February 26, 2019