Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — “All love.”
That’s what Hugh Roberts said to describe his relationship with Bob Lilley, his former Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC teammates and the Hounds fans. Roberts, now a member of the Charlotte Independence, appreciates all the love and respect from the fans last season. However, this season, he’s on the opposing side.
That doesn’t mean he will turn a shoulder to the fans.
“I’m very excited to see the fans, Roberts said. “They might heckle me a little bit, but it’s all in good fun, it’s all love. They showed me love at the end of the day. It’s deeper than a game, so I’ll definitely give some love back. I want to go up and visit with them a little during pregame.”
Roberts is returning to Pittsburgh this weekend when the Hounds host the Charlotte Independence on Saturday. Roberts was a centerback for the Hounds last year, making 26 appearances and scoring one goal. Roberts said that when he decided to leave the club in the offseason, there was a mutual respect and agreement with head coach Bob Lilley.
Roberts said he plans on giving Lilley a “big hug.”
“It’s all love with him,” Roberts said. “He gave me an opportunity when nobody did. We had a lot of talk this offseason. It’ll be good to see the trainers, Hunter [Gilstrap], [Dan] Visser and everyone.”
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) May 21, 2019
Roberts on his time in Pittsburgh
Roberts said that he’s expecting a much larger crowd on Saturday.
He hasn’t turned a blind eye to Pittsburgh. He remembers the new bleachers and additional seats and has watched fans fill them up this season. Roberts mentioned that the stadium always looks “packed.” While he’s excited to see fans fill up the seats, Roberts is more excited to see his former teammates, who are still close friends to him.
“I’ve been talking to a bunch of the guys for a while now,” Roberts said. “I’ve been looking forward to this game since joining Charlotte… We’re all really close.We all became close friends last year. We’ll get some dinner, hang out and catch up a bit.”
However, when they’re on the pitch, Roberts is no stranger to focusing and putting friendships aside. For 90 minutes, he’s all in with Charlotte, as the Hounds players are all in for their club.
Before and after the match is a different story.
“The bond that I had with all of those guys is strong,” Roberts said. “We all lived together in the same complex. We all hung out. We had some good camaraderie because of that. I miss some of the playing style and playing with them. Our chemistry was helpful and it played a role in our season.”
Roberts has the scouting report
Being a former member of the Hounds has helped Roberts prepare for this match.
He credits practicing against guys like Neco Brett and Kenardo Forbes last year as good preparation. A few of his teammates in Charlotte have asked him for little tidbits about his former teammates. Roberts remembers well the tactics he used on the backline with Joe Greenspan and Tobi Adewole.
However, not everyone on the Hounds roster is familiar to Roberts.
He’s played against Christian Volesky before and faced off with Steevan Dos Santos. However, rookie Anthony Velarde is a mystery to him. New goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard is in his first professional season. Kyle Morton, although teammates with Roberts last year, sustained an ACL injury early in the season, so he was out of practice and matches.
Even with playing against Dos Santos and Volesky, Roberts said it’s always different since they’re in a new system.
“It’s different when you’re playing against them when they’re on a new team,” Roberts said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film and seeing how they mesh well with Kenny [Forbes] and [Mouhamed] Dabo. It’s going to be a battle and I’m looking forward to facing those new players they bought in.”
However, Roberts remembers the game-play of Neco Brett well.
“We battled every day in practice,” Roberts said. “I look forward to it. That’s my boy, too. When you’re on the field, you’re not friends anymore. Taking those battles from practice to the game is awesome.”
A new adventure and an exciting return
Roberts is comfortable in his new city of Charlotte.
He even went on to call the city “home.” He was contacted in the offseason early by general manager Mike Jeffries, whom he hit it off with instantly.
“He showed me love in the get-go,” Roberts said. “When you have general manager that’s committed from the get go, that’s always a good thing. I’ve known Charlotte for six years now through my experience in the league. They have a lot of quality and it’s nice to be on grass again. I knew I had an opportunity to live in the city. A lot of that played into the decision and it’s now home for me.”
Roberts has been excelling, too. With a talented team like Charlotte, he’s getting good minutes. He’s made eight starts in nine matches. Roberts currently leads the Independence in clearances with 46 and blocks with 12. He’s a regular starter for head coach Jim McGuinness.
“It’s good to get my coach’s trust,” Roberts said. “I have been playing a fair amount. We have a lot of quality. I know I could be back on the bench. But that’s good pressure. You have to bring the A-game. You have to bring your best level. It feels good to know I’m getting these opportunities week in and week out. I’m doing everything to take advantage of it.”
Roberts could make another start in his former stadium. The Riverhounds SC will host the Independence on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Hugh Roberts gets the @Independence going with the first goal of the game!🔥
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 14, 2019