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‘Stir Crazy’ Hounds are cramming to get unusual 2020 season going

File Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC head coach Bob Lilley and his veteran captain, Kenardo Forbes, are both creatures of habit.

In the past four months, in response to COVID-19 shutdown, and subsequent protocols that have followed, they’ve been thrown off their routines like never before.

“It’s been a lot,” Lilley said. “Everyone’s trying to keep up with all of the different protocols.  I’ve been fortunate to have staff and ownership here who’ve been a big help, and I’ve still been able to focus on team, on the players for the most part.” 

The veteran midfielder, Forbes, found himself in a new predicament immediately after everything shut down, when his regular routine of going to Highmark Stadium for daily training sessions was interrupted.

Suddenly, like so manyfollowing precautions during the outset of the pandemic, Forbes was at home all the time where he needed to find a balance between supporting his family and staying in shape.

“I am not a guy to go to the gym at lot,” Forbes admitted. “It’s a tough balance. I’m always playing. For me, the off season is hard. That first week (of the shut down). I got a treadmill.  I’d run for 30 minutes a day. Then, we started to get in touch more with our training staff.  After three weeks, we were on Zoom. connecting with trainers every day.” 

While Forbes was keeping up with staying in shape, he also picked up a new responsibility.

“I became a teacher overnight! Since my girlfriend still had to go to work every day, I was homeschooling my daughter. Every day. I learned a lot.  I give teachers a lot of credit. It takes a lot patience. Here’s I have just one. I can’t imagine what teachers go through with 15-16 kids.” 

At that time, many players traveled back to their home states, and a few to their home countries, if that was possible. Forbes, a Jamaican native, was among six players who remained in Pittsburgh. 

“For the most part, we were connecting from afar.  We set up a WhatApp group.  We’d chit chat for a little.  But we were all from a distance, for the most part.”  

Getting out of the house was clearly not something Forbes was comfortable with doing. 

“Absolutely not! I didn’t leave house once,” Forbes said in sharing his concerns about the pandemic. “I was scared. I am still.” 

Once the Riverhounds were allowing players back into its facility with restrictions in May then began small group training, the 2019 All-USL selection finally started to feel a little bit more comfortable with getting out of the house. Forbes remains steadfast in his routine, opting to only to go to-and-from training and back home.  

Lilley and Hounds officials were conducting small group training sessions up until the week of June 21, when things got frantic as the USL Championship came to an agreement with the USL Players Association, then started to roll out protocols for the season to return.

“I feel for (Riverhounds Director of Operations) John Rotz, (Owner) Tuffy (Shallenberger), Kim Robson (General Manager, Highmark Stadium). The amount of meetings, checklists they’ve been going through. There’s a lot critical information coming from the league, and obviously from the Governor and state officials. We’ve had to be prepared every step of the way. Had to do a lot of things. First, it was in small groups, and now we’re finally allowed to work with the larger group.” 

On June 22, the Hounds learned that the training moratorium was lifted, and they could train as a team.  This led to a mad scramble for the club to get ready for full squad training.

“We’re on testing cycle now. So far, all (COVID-19) tests have been negative. We will get tested every week through the season. That’s something important. AHN (Allegheny Health Network) and our team doctors are very much involved.  We have good medical team,” Lilley said. 

Already a stickler for detail, as most coaches are, Lilley continued to reiterate the weight and attention to detail that the pandemic has brought to his soccer life and the managing a pro soccer club. The veteran, USL Hall of Fame coach admitted that they’re still ironing things out, but that day after the training moratorium was lifted, he could finally see his team back as one, though they needed to take a few steps to get together on the field.

“It was nice to have guys back. We were all going stir crazy. Everyone got tested on Tuesday (June 23). By Thursday night we got all of our tests back. And that when we found out we can go — and start to compete again.” 

The Hounds finally got out on the Highmark Stadium pitch together, as a full squad on Friday, June 26. 

“It’s been tough. We’ve all been off for so long. But in the first sessions, guys have responded well.  For what Bob wants as a team. Even he said it. He’s always tough on us. Even during the lock down,” explained Forbes, who was teaching and giving assignments to his daughter, had a few assignments of his own from his coach. 

“Yes — he sent us tapes to watch. He wanted to prepare us for what to expect when get back to training.” 

Lilley intent on having his team prepared, even as they’ve scrambled to get back together with just one week of training under their belts and no preseason games to prepare.

“We’re trying to get everyone back to game speed. But we don’t have games. Most teams before the shut down had games. We didn’t. We’re still looking to play to see where we stand. What we need to work on.”

Still, Lilley remains optimistic after the first few days of training.

“I felt pretty good. Guys did stuff at home before, then they did small group training. They did a pretty good job,” LIlley said. “Now, we got back to live action. Had some guys nicked up.  Don’t want to push too fast, too soon. That’s one of the challenges.”    

Forbes said that he and many of the returning players are motivated from last year’s disappointing playoff result.

“We had good team. To turn out like that — it was so disappointing. We had a team that could get a championship for Pittsburgh. What happened in the regular season was unbelievable,” Forbes said. “But, we didn’t get it done. Even though it’s going to be a shorter season and format, we want to win it all.  That’s why I am here. That’s what we’re aiming for.”  

As the Hounds prepare for its 2020 opener at Louisville next Sunday, Pittsburgh Soccer Now will have more coverage this coming week. We’ll also have more from our interviews with Bob Lilley and Kenardo Forbes, as they had plenty to share, as we preview the big match and get ready for the reboot of the 2020 season.  






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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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