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Kenardo Forbes signs a new deal plus Riverhounds exercise five player contract options for 2021

File Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Riverhounds SC today revealed initial roster plans ahead of the 2021 season as the club announced they’ve re-signed All-USL midfielder Kenardo Forbes along with electing to pick up contract options for five players.

The deal with the 31-year old Forbes is a one-year contract with a club option for the 2022 season, pending USL Championship and USSF approval.

Forbes had a record-setting season in 2020, taking over as the USL Championship’s career leader in assists (39). His eight assists in 2020 ranked first for the club and second in the league. The midfielder has recorded at least eight assists in all three of his seasons with Pittsburgh; no other player in club history has more than one such campaign. This year, he started 11 of his 12 games played while posting a team-high 24 chances created.

Despite losing three key players who were out of contract with the club after the 2020 season, Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley told Pittsburgh Soccer Now on Tuesday that he wanted to make sure that he brought Forbes back to the fold.

“It was a top priority,” Lilley said. “He has the ability to set the tone for the entire club.  He’s a large part of what we do. A huge player for us, who can help calm the game down.”

“We had a lot of players who were out of contract, but we chose to bring a number of guys back who will be able to continue to help us.”

In addition, the club has picked up the contract options of the following players;

  • Albert Dikwa
  • Jordan Dover
  • Danny Griffin
  • Anthony Velarde
  • Danny Vitiello

The following players had their options declined by the club:

  • Xhelil Asani
  • Hunter Ashworth
  • Dakota Barnathan
  • Patrick Bunk-Andersen
  • Lukas Fernandes
  • Tomás Gómez
  • Mark Lindstrom
  • Ropapa Mensah
  • Anthony Mwembia
  • Skylar Thomas
  • Tony Walls

Subsequently, the following players are currently out of contract.

  • Steevan Dos Santos
  • Mark Forrest
  • Ray Lee
  • Dani Rovira

It was also learned today that Dos Santos is rumored to be signing a deal with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

In addition, three players who were out of contract with the Hounds after November 30, from last year’s squad, Robbie Mertz, Ryan James and Thomas Vancaeyezeele have already moved on as previously reported on Pittsburgh Soccer Now.  Lilley reiterated that he was hoping to bring each player back, but it wasn’t in the cards.

First Thomas Vancaeyezeele, now Robbie Mertz will move on from Riverhounds SC

Ryan James signs with Birmingham Legion FC

With the USL Championship most likely not expected to return to play in May 2021 at the earliest, reiterated again by USL President Jake Edwards this week in Jeff Reuter’s article in The AthleticLilley assured that the Hounds have been looking at the free agent market, as they’ve been aggressive.  He is aiming to use the extra time to build his club’s roster to include many top-end players.

“We’re trying to get better,” Lilley explained. “To do that, we had to take a long, hard look at our roster. See what players we wanted to bring back but also start to look at finding the pieces that provide good value.  We’re not just in it to make the playoffs. We want to aim higher.”

The club continues to remain active pursuing players in the domestic and foreign markets as well as scouting top players from the collegiate system. The club also expects to run invitational combines in late January and February.

“The ownership. Everyone here, we want to keep moving forward,” Lilley said. “For us, it’s business as usual.”

Returning Players Breakdown

Here are capsules of the Hounds’ returning players:

Danny Vitiello (Goalkeeper) 

Key Stats:  9 starts, 9 games played in 2020.  Faced 23 shots.  Made 17 saves (73.9 saves success rate). 5 clean sheets. Narrow winner of USL Golden Glove Award (top statistical goalkeeper) in 2020.  2 penalties saves & 1 drop.

Analysis:  After starting twice in the first nine games, Vitiello seized starting job halfway through 2020 season. The Massapequa, NY (Long Island) native, who previously was third-string on Nashville SC roster, played well when given the opportunity, notably making a few big PK saves.  He made only mistake late in playoff loss at Lou City FC, unable to secure a hard shot from distance which then trickled into the net. The only keeper who has returned in Lilley’s tenure in Pittsburgh from previous year was Kyle Morton.  Vitiello will return for second year with Pittsburgh as the odds-on favorite to be the club’s regular starter in goal.

Jordan Dover (Outside back / Winger) 

Key Stats: Started 15 of 16 total matches played. Passing accuracy respectable 75.9% in 827 pass attempts in 2020 (second most behind Vancaeyezeele and three more than Robbie Mertz)

Analysis: Dover’s been an instrumental piece for this club since 2018. By bringing him back, the Hounds return one of its most dependable, durable and reliable two-way players. Game in and game out, Dover’s going to be involved in moving things forward and winning battles on the right flank.

Kenardo Forbes (Midfielder) 

Key Stats:  82.8% passing accuracy in 2020. Team high 26 key passes. Despite injury that sidelined him, Forbes had eight assists in 2020 (without a goal) and was ranked first for the club and second in the league. The midfielder has recorded at least eight assists in all three of his seasons with Pittsburgh.

Analysis:  In just three seasons, even with an injury that sidelined him for more than a month in 2020, Forbes has played 80 matches for the Hounds. Since Bob Lilley’s arrival in 2018, he’s been a mainstay and foundational player.  Numerous players come and go, but Forbes has been through it all with Lilley since 2014 when they started in Rochester together.  There’s no doubt that the Hounds want to continue to build around the Jamaican native’s strength’s in playing deep in the central midfield or moving into an attacking player when called upon.

Danny Griffin (Midfielder) 

Video: 1-v-1 with Riverhounds SC Rookie Midfielder Danny Griffin

Key Stats:  2 goals, 2 assists, 6 key passes, 81.1% passing accuracy (593 total passes), won 55 of 126 duels, started 14 matches (17 total appearances) and sixth on club in total minutes (1,298)

Analysis: After an impressive trial and late preseason signing, Griffin emerged in 2020 as a regular starter alongside Mertz and Forbes. Now, with Mertz gone, the Hounds will likely turn to Griffin as a young midfielder who can continue to grow into his role as a creative, attacking midfielder.  He stepped up and played his best soccer after Kenardo Forbes went down with an injury in late August.

Anthony Velarde (Midfielder)

Key Stats: 5 goals, 2 assists in 13 appearances in 2020. 

The attacking midfielder was fairly productive, scoring five goals in 2020.  Lilley’s banking on continuity in bringing back Velarde. Especially with Robbie Mertz not coming back in 2021, he’ll want Velarde to push to be part of the starting 11 and a key attacking midfielder who can continue to produce and and improve.

Albert Dikwa (Forward) 

Key Stats:  3 goals (8 of 16 shots on target), 2 key passes, 75% passing, won 32 of 63 duels (16 of 30 in the air), 7 appearances (2 starts) 

Analysis: Dikwa joined the Hounds halfway through the 2020 season due to having issues with getting back into the U.S. He added another element to the Hounds attack with his speed and finishing in and around the box, scoring three goals in just seven appearances. While he came off the bench for much of the regular season, started the playoff match with mixed results. A young player with plenty of upside and already USL experience to boot.

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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