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Riverhounds SC notebook: Now’s the time to make tough decisions

There’s no doubt the sting from the Riverhounds SC’s playoff loss still remains.

As the off season begins, there’s a lot of work to be done by Head Coach Bob Lilley and his staff.  While things have been extremely quiet in terms of news, you better believe that Lilley has been hard at work trying to get the initial pieces for the 2020 version of the Riverhounds ready for another successful campaign.

Lilley likes to chart out a list on a big dry erase board in his office with his returning players — and then starts building lists of prospects.

Last year at this time, that list already included a starting eleven — as the Riverhounds announced the re-signing of 11 players by November 13.

Hounds set foundation for 2019 by exercising contract options to bring 11 players back

This off season, things are different — as it appears that Pittsburgh soccer fans will likely going to have to wait at least until after Thanksgiving for any formal announcements from the team on who’s coming back, and who will be moving on.

Both Lilley and club officials have told Pittsburgh Soccer Now that we’ll probably get more information following this week’s Holiday.

In the meantime, one club that didn’t waste any time re-signing its core this week, were Louisville City FC, who already announced that they’re bringing back the bulk of its squad that beat the Hounds in the playoffs, and made it to its third straight USL Cup final.

Lou City brings back 13 players, including its leading goal-scorer in Magnus Rasmussen, its longest-tenured player in Niall McCabe — who has been with the club since its inception in 2015 — and the player with the most caps in USL Championship history, George Davis IV.

It’s very likely that Lilley, who will want to have roster continuity, would like bring back a good number of the 14 players they hold a club option, but it’s not that simple.

Some tough decisions will have to be made and a number of players that will be free agents after their contracts expired on November 30 could test the waters to see what else is out there.

Lilley has either met with or has been in touch with most, if not all of his players from the past season.

In building next year’s roster, the Hounds will begin the process of looking for some diamonds in the rough, as they’ll hold its first Open Tryout of the offseason on Saturday. This is where Lilley will start to build his prospect list. If he likes a few guys on Saturday, he’ll add them to his list, and they’ll be brought in on trial in the early weeks of training camp in February.

Below we’ll look at what options that Lilley and his staff are dealing with prior to the November 30th deadline when the club will choose either exercise the contract options for 14 players, as well as deal with players who will be free agents come December 1st.


Even though they’re coming off a very successful season, the coaching staff has its work cut out.  As the case with each player on the 2019 roster, all current contracts expire at the end of the month.

Lilley has told Pittsburgh Soccer Now he’ll have a better idea of what things will look like the first week of December, and at that time, we’ll be sitting down with him to talk about what decisions he’ll be making in terms of roster management for 2020.

According to and Pittsburgh Soccer Now‘s calculations (nothing here is official) here’s a look at this past season’s roster, and where each player stands in terms of contract options. Also, please be aware that USL teams such as the Riverhounds do not reveal contract figures.


Player Date of birth / Age Nat. End of contract Contract option Key stat(s)
Neco Brett
Mar 22, 1992 (27) Jamaica 30.11.2019     FREE AGENT
Kenardo Forbes
May 15, 1988 (31) Jamaica 30.11.2019 club option 1 year
Steevan Dos Santos
Sep 17, 1989 (30) Cape Verde 30.11.2019 club option 1 year
Kevin Kerr
Jan 12, 1989 (30) Scotland


30.11.2019     FREE AGENT
Thomas Vancaeyezeele
Defensive Midfield
Jul 27, 1994 (25) French Guiana


30.11.2019 Option for a further year
Joe Greenspan
Sep 12, 1992 (27) United States 30.11.2019       FREE AGENT
Christian Volesky
Sep 15, 1992 (27) United States 30.11.2019  club option 1 year
Ryan James
Apr 21, 1994 (25) Canada 30.11.2019 club option 1 year
Tobi Adewole
Oct 14, 1995 (24) United States 30.11.2019       FREE AGENT
Jordan Dover
Dec 14, 1994 (24) Guyana


30.11.2019        FREE AGENT
Mouhamed Dabo
Defensive Midfield
Jan 2, 1996 (23) Senegal 30.11.2019        FREE AGENT
Kyle Morton
Mar 31, 1994 (25) United States 30.11.2019        FREE AGENT
Todd Pratzner
Aug 10, 1994 (25) United States 30.11.2019        FREE AGENT
Noah Franke
Mar 25, 1995 (24) United States 30.11.2019        FREE AGENT
Robbie Mertz
Dec 4, 1996 (22) United States 30.11.2019      club option 1 year
Anthony Velarde
Mar 8, 1996 (23) United States 30.11.2019 club option 1 year
Sammy Kahsai
Mar 5, 1995 (24) Ethiopia 30.11.2019 Option for a further year
Austin Pack
Feb 25, 1994 (25) United States 30.11.2019 club option 1 year
Uchenna Uzo
Dec 27, 1992 (26) Nigeria 30.11.2019       club option 1 year
Ben Lundgaard
Sep 2, 1995 (24) United States 30.11.2019        FREE AGENT
Dani Rovira
Dec 15, 1996 (22) Colombia 30.11.2019       club option 1 year
Mark Forrest
Dec 3, 1996 (22) England 30.11.2019 club option 1 year
Prosper Figbe
Oct 30, 1996 (23) Nigeria 30.11.2019       club option 1 year
Caleb Smith
Oct 15, 1996 (23) United States 30.11.2019     club option 1 year



As previously mentioned, the Hounds will have to exercise all 2020 contract options by November 30.

If you recall, two years ago, when Lilley first took over in Pittsburgh, he chose not to exercise any options on any player from the 2017 roster. Of course, that was a different scenario, as he was inheriting the Hounds roster at that time, and wanted to build things up from scratch.

Last year, he brought 11 players back.

When asking Lilley about any potential concerns about players who are are getting older, he responded by telling me he’s mostly concerned about productivity.

With that in mind, and with the need for continuity to put a team together that can once again finish at or near the top of the table, and make a strong run to the USL Cup Final, it’s probably a sure bet that Lilley will once again lean on veterans such as Kenardo Forbes and Steevan Dos Santos for continuity, unless there are some underlying physical issues with either player.

After a strong first-year campaign, and holding his option, there’s little doubt that the Riverhounds will pick up the option for local product Robbie Mertz. In addition, Thomas Vancaeyezeele and Ryan James look like the other two sure bets for the Hounds to pick up options.

Outside of that, as far as the 14, it’s anyone’s guess.

One sign that points to the uncertainty of the other players that have options, was Lilley’s hesitation to go deep into his bench in the Hounds playoff match against Louisville City.

While Louisville City brought on veteran players off the bench who made an impact late in the second half and into the extra time of the playoff clash at Highmark Stadium, Lilley only used one second half sub, Dos Santos, who came in for Kerr, and didn’t bring another until the 118th minute (Mark Forrest).

Forrest, who didn’t have much of an impact last season until the final regular season match, scoring a late header, would be an asset to re-sign.

First-year pros Dani Rovira and Anthony Velarde both contributed during the regular season, having flashes and moments in both starting and coming off the bench. Another year playing with Lilley might provide them with an opportunity to continue to grow and be key contributors going forward.

The real x-factors are Prosper Figbe and Caleb Smith, who were injured most of the season.

Austin Pack is the only goalkeeper that the Hounds hold an option, and he may also be re-signed, if for any reason, Lilley has a track record of bringing back his back-up keepers each year, and chooses not to re-sign the starters. Last year, he brought back Kyle Morton, and didn’t resign Dan Lynd. The previous year, his first in Pittsburgh, he brought in both Morton and Lynd, who were back-ups for him in Rochester the previous season. Will he break that trend by re-signing Morton, who was a finalist for the USL Goalkeeper of the Year?

That’s a question for the section below.


Among the biggest contributors from the past few years, who will be free agents as of November 30, include Neco Brett, Joe Greenspan,  Tobi Adewole, Jordan Dover, Kevin Kerr, Kyle Morton and Mo Dabo.

It will be very interesting to see if the Hounds can retain this core group, or if there’s interest out there for these players from other teams.

We know how invaluable Brett, Greenspan, Adewole, Dover, Kerr and Dabo were to the team’s make-up of field players this past year.

Lilley’s never been a big fan of bringing in players that will command too much salary, and knows even though he has support from owner Tuffy Shallenberger to build a formidable roster, he’s working within a budget.

Greenspan was USL’s Defender of the Year, and with his commitment to the U.S. Navy, may want to opt to stay somewhere he can have continuity, unless of course, he could get interest from MLS.

Remember, MLS will have 40 or so new players this season, with the addition of two teams in Miami and Nashville. Of the guys from this group, Brett, Greenspan, Morton and Adewole may be guys that other USL teams might want to try to sign — or there could be potential interest from MLS teams to invite them to camps.

Kerr, who turns 31 in January, has been in Pittsburgh for the past seven seasons, and should have enough left to come back as a contributor, but ultimately, that will be Lilley’s decision, as productivity is what ultimately matters. Kerr did have a nice run of goals early in the season, and he certainly contributed solid minutes through the full season in the midfield.

Guys like Noah Franke and even Christian Volesky may find opportunities elsewhere to compete for regular starting spots, as they didn’t get as much playing time as either might have wanted in 2019.

Because of the uncertainly with where things stand with free agents, and questions about depth from the 14 players they hold options, Lilley might have to do more roster building than we first thought after the season ended

Of course, we’ll find out a lot more in the coming week.

And as we learned from previous seasons, the roster won’t be fully constructed and complete until after the 2020 season kicks off.


John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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