As we warm-up to the news this morning that Punxatawny Phil didn’t see his shadow, spring and soccer season are closing in as the Riverhounds SC set to take the field, and start preparing for the 2020 season when preseason begins Monday at Highmark Stadium.
With the announcement of the signing of Ropapa Mensah on Wednesday, the Hounds now have 15 players signed to roster with the preseason training sessions set to begin Monday, February 3.
It’s hard not to be excited about a striker with a dope name…
… and the swag to be tweeting it to the tune of Biggie Smalls ‘Big Poppa’ .
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) January 30, 2020
In addition, Bob Lilley and the Hounds coaching staff hosted invitational tryouts on Wednesday and Thursday.
Players that caught the eye of the Hounds coaching staff from this week and from previous invitational tryouts will be brought in on trial with the club this week, and throughout the preseason.
The first week which culminates with a preseason friendly against Villanova University on Sunday, February 9 at Highmark Stadium.
We’ll provide a report from the first day of preseason on Monday from Highmark Stadium. Look for Pittsburgh Soccer Now‘s coverage of the preseason including various features, occasional reports from training and preseason matches.
As the Hounds head to the preseason, lets take a closer look as the current roster as it stands.
Forwards (3): Steevan Dos Santos, Lukas Fernandes, Mark Forrest, Ropapa Mensah
Midfielders (4): Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Dani Rovira, Anthony Velarde
Defenders (5): Xhelil Asani, Jordan Dover, Ryan James, Mark Lindstrom, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Tony Walls
Goalkeepers (1): Anthony Mwembia
As you can see, this is a team roster that’s still a work in progress, but it’s a solid, core group to build around.
Lilley has just begun to address the losses of Joe Greenspan and Tobi Adewole to the back line by bringing in Tony Walls, Mark Lindstrom and Xhelil Asani. At least one or two more center backs will need to be added to this roster, and there should be plenty of competition here in the preseason. Lilley will also be monitoring the market, and may find someone out there like he did when he signed Hugh Robert late in the preseason in 2018.
The club has some solid building blocks for a quality central midfield already in place with Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz and Anthony Velarde, but previous conversations in the off season with Lilley indicated that he’d love to have a lot of quality in the middle.
Right now they only have four midfield spots taken. After choosing not to re-sign the likes of Sammy Kahsai, Noah Franke, the Hounds coaches will be looking to find another diamond in the rough (like Robbie Mertz last year) or wait to see what comes out of the MLS preseason roster cuts — and have an opportunity to sign a quality veteran that might be available late in the preseason (thinking along the lines of the Ben Zemanski signing in 2018). Expect there to be a lot of competition for additional midfield spots in the preseason.
Tony Walls appears to be penciled in as a defender, but we know both he and Thomas Vancaeyezeele can play in the midfield too, providing the Hounds coaching staff with plenty of tactical options and flexibility this season.
As mentioned in Wednesday’s piece, this appears to be a position where the Hounds appear to be set. With two proven players in Steevan Dos Santos and Mensah who Lilley will be hoping can form a quality partnership, along with a few other younger players who have promising skill sets, the key will be developing chemistry as they come together in February and March. It will be interesting to watch how Mark Forrest and Lukas Ferandes develop with this group early in the preseason.
Look for keepers to be rolled in during the early portion of February, as competition will be for one or two spots on the roster, depending on what the coaching staff decide. The Hounds carried two signed keepers last season, plus had Ben Lundgaard on loan at times from Columbus.
US Open Cup First and Second Round Draw is set
Mark down Tuesday, April 7 on your calendars, as the Hounds will be hosting the second round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against the winner of West Chester United SC (NPSL)/Vereinigung Erzgebirge (Pa.).
On Wednesday, the United States Soccer Federation announced the pairings for the Second Round of the 107th edition of the tournament that will take place April 7-9.
In Round 2, the 19 winners of Round 1 will join 25 USL Championship, 6 USL League One, and 8 NISA teams in 29 matches. This is the largest round by number of matches in the Modern Era.
The hosts for the First Round, and all future rounds, are determined by random selection. If both teams apply to host and both teams meet the federation’s minimum venue standards, then the home team is decided by random draw.
The winners from Round 2 will advance to the Third Round which is scheduled to be played April 21-23. The 11 lowest ranked Division I (MLS) teams will enter in this round.
All games will be exclusively broadcast live on ESPN+ as part of the tournament’s new media rights agreement.
Christiano François Signs with Reno 1868
Another former Riverhound, Christiano François was signed with Reno 1868, joining another former Hound, Corey Hertzog for the Western Conference club.
New challenge,new team,new city, new country, new conference but the same Cheetah. I am really excited about the new chapter. I want to thank @reno1868fc @sjearthquakes for this opportunity. I am ready to work, I am ready to score more goals and more assists @uslchampionship pic.twitter.com/KDcJ0S3B0e
— Christiano François (Cheetah)🇭🇹 (@Cheetahcf7) January 30, 2020
In his four-year USL career, François owns 12 goals and 19 assists. In the last two seasons, François has appeared in 62 games, starting 58 and playing more than 5,000 minutes. In 2019, François’ eight goals were tied for third on the club and his six assists were tied with the club lead. Internationally, François has appeared in two games with the Haitian national team in September of 2019.
Multiple USL Championship clubs announcing U-23 squads in League Two; What about the Hounds?
In the past few weeks. two prominent USL Championship clubs, Louisville City FC and New Mexico announced that they’ll be fielding U-23 squads in USL’s League Two.
You might recall, for three seasons, the Riverhounds had a U-23 squad that competed in the Premier Development League, which has since become League Two. From 2014-2016, the Hounds PDL squad didn’t fare that well on the field, under three different coaches, accumulating a 7-28-7 overall record.
For the record, even being a step ahead of many USL organizations with an Youth Development Academy that’s been going strong since 2007 along with expanded training facilities on the way soon at Montour Junction, the Riverhounds SC have no current plans to join Louisville City, New Mexico and a few other organizations in USL Championship in fielding a U23 squad.
Three players from those U-23 clubs in the mid-2010s would also go on to play for the Riverhounds first team, including Anthony Virgara, Dan Lynd and Ryan Hulings. Another notable player who was part of the 2014 squad, was Devon “Speedy” Williams, who played collegiately at Robert Morris. Williams was drafted by New York Red Bulls II and since has been part of three USL Championship Cup winning squads (NYRBII in 2016, Louisville City in 2017 and 2018).
The Pittsburgh area is not without another developmental club though providing current and recent college players with high level opportunities, as Pittsburgh Hotspurs will be competing in the Fourth Division National Premier Soccer League for the second year in 2020.
Riverhounds SC 2020 Preseason Schedule:
Sunday, Feb. 9 – Villanova University – 2 p.m. at Highmark Stadium
Saturday, Feb. 15 – Penn State University – 2 p.m. at Highmark Stadium
Wednesday, Feb. 19 – University of Pittsburgh – 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium
Saturday, Feb. 22 – University of Akron – 2 p.m. at Highmark Stadium
Wednesday, Feb. 26 – Loudoun United FC – 12 p.m. at Highmark Stadium
Monday, March 2 – @Columbus Crew SC – 1 p.m. at TBD venue