The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will be missing their captain and commander for at least the next month, as head coach Bob Lilley said Thursday that midfielder Kenardo Forbes is out long-term with an upper-leg injury.
Forbes, who ranks second in the USL Championship with seven assists this season, had his 75-start streak snapped Tuesday against Loudoun United FC due to a soft-tissue ailment he suffered last week.
On a conference call with media, Lilley described the injury as “basically a tear” of Forbes’ quadriceps muscle “that extends up into his hip.” The Hounds’ third-year bench boss said that, after an MRI, the team’s medical staff estimates Forbes will be out 4-8 weeks, with the possibility that he returns to training by the end of September.
“We have a team and injuries happen all the time,” Lilley said. “It’s up to us to get the wins we need and he’ll do what he needs to do on his end to help us make a deep run at playoff time.”
After a 2-2 start, Pittsburgh (7-3-1, 22 points) has won five of seven to open up a six-point lead on Hartford for first-place in Group F, essentially locking up a playoff berth with five matches to play.
For reference, the Hounds conclude the COVID-shortened 16-game regular season on Oct. 3, to be followed immediately thereafter by the four-week USL Cup playoffs. Dating back to Forbes’ injury, the first round of the postseason is at the six-week mark of the recovery period.
“If he’s back training by the end of the month,” Lilley said, “he could conceivably get some minutes in our last regular-season game. If we got deep in the playoffs, he could get back in the starting lineup.”
Forbes only made it a few minutes at Hartford last Friday before departing the pitch, a jarring sight considering his near-omnipresence in the middle of the park for the Hounds since 2018. A 32-year-old native of Jamaica, Forbes has played over 150 games in the USL Championship, with three seasons each on the Rochester Rhinos (also coached by Lilley) and the Hounds.
Until last week, he appeared to show no signs of age, as his six-goal, 11-assist 2019 season earned him a spot on the league’s first team and consideration in the MVP vote. This year, he became the USL Championship’s all-time assist leader with 38, with 24 of those coming in regular-season matches for the Hounds — three behind Kevin Kerr for the most in team history.
Beyond the stats and tangibles, Forbes has served as the team’s undisputed general since his arrival, controlling the Hounds’ tempo and organization as a coach-on-the-field.
But now more of that load will rest on second-year Hounds midfielder Robbie Mertz, a native of Upper St. Clair, in addition to fellow sophomore Anthony Velarde and rookie Danny Griffin. That trio combined to hold down the central midfield in Tuesday’s 3-0 win vs. Loudoun, Pittsburgh’s first match with Forbes inactive since April 2018.
“We’ve got to continue to grow,” Lilley said. “Some guys are going to have to step up, and they have. They’ve showed it in games and in training you see it. (Forbes) is a big piece, but we have a lot of good players.”
The anticipated return of veteran midfielder/defender Tony Walls could also help ease the burden, although the former Rochester captain is still working his way back into game condition after tending to a personal matter back home in Milwaukee. He has not appeared in a match since the season resumed in early July.
Lilley noted that his Hounds teams have successfully survived extended absences for key former players like 2019 USL Championship Defensive Player of the Year Joe Greenspan and Mohamed Dabo.
“It’s a big challenge, but I also think we have a good team,” Lilley said. “It’s a cliché, next man up. There are ways we can shift players around. … We have ideas and we have personnel that can help us in those areas.”
The Hounds finish a three-games-in-nine-days stretch Saturday at 5 p.m. when they face New York Red Bulls II (3-6-0, 9 points) in Harrison, N.J.