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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Looking to rebuild central defense, Hounds start by signing center back Preston Kilwien

Photo courtesy NY Red Bulls II

Thus far in this extended off season, the Riverhounds SC’s initial steps in building its 2021 roster have come with a host of midfielders, three forwards, a pair of outside backs and one goalkeeper.

On Thursday, they nabbed their first central defender with the announcement of the signing of defender Preston Kilwien to a one-year contract with a club option for the 2022 season, pending USL Championship and USSF approval.

Kilwien, 24, is a third-year pro who played his first two seasons in the USL Championship with the New York Red Bulls II.

“We are excited to bring Preston on board for the 2021 season and are looking forward to working with him,” Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley said.

“He is an athletic center back that is comfortable on the ball, good in the air and a physical presence that is needed at this level.”

As one of the Baby Bulls’ primary center backs, he appeared in 36 of a possible 50 matches over the past two seasons, and he was third in minutes played for Red Bulls II in the 2020 campaign.

He also scored his first professional goal on Aug. 13 last season in a 2-1 loss to Loudoun United.

In addition to his USL experience, Kilwien brings needed height to the Hounds back line at 6-foot-4, which makes him the tallest player currently under contract for 2021.

In total, the defender played 60 games for FGCU and scored four goals, the first of which — a 35-yard, lobbed volley to beat Princeton in the 89th minute as a freshman — landed him at No. 3 on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 that night.

A native of Lubbock, Texas, Kilwien holds dual citizenship with both the U.S. and Costa Rica.

He spent part of his childhood in Washington state before graduating from high school in California. During his college years, Kilwien also played a season each with the Tampa Bay Rowdies U-23s (2017) and the Seattle Sounders U-23s (2018) before turning pro ahead of the 2019 season.

Takeaways from Preston Kilwien Signing

It was clear after the end of the 2020 season, Bob Lilley was ready to start over at the center back position.

Last season, he relied heavily on Thomas Vancaeyezeele as the primary stabilizing force in the middle along with Skylar Thomas as the only other consistent presence. Beyond that, Hounds relied on a revolving door of players that included Mark Lindstrom, Patrick Bunk-Andersen and Hunter Ashworth.  Apparently not satisfied with any of the options from the revolving door, it was veteran Ray Lee who started beside Vancaeyezeele and Thomas on the back line in the playoff match at Louisville.

Now, Lilley’s counting on the market having more options to start to find quality players who can deliver the same, high-level of defending he demands.

Starting fresh, Lilley starts over with this big fella who had two years of development in the NY Red Bulls organization, is just 24 years young and from what I’ve seen is a physical player who is solid in the air and in one-on-one situations.

In 10 matches last year, Kilwien put up some solid numbers, winning 56.3% of his duels (65% in the air). Playing it out of the back, he improved slightly from 2019 to 2020, from 75% to 78%.  He’s a bit prone to picking up yellow cards, as he accumulated 10 in the two season with the Baby Bulls, including six in just 10 appearances in 2020. Lilley’s teams and players tend to be highly disciplined, so something tells me that Kilwien better cut down on those yellow cards or he’ll be finding himself out of favor.

Under Lilley, the Hounds mostly implored three center backs, with the bigger, more physical players to the left and right of Vancaeyezeele. Occasionally they would switch over to a 4-man back line, but that hasn’t been as common.

There appears little doubt that Kilwien will be looked to be a stabilizing presence who will bring some experience and plenty of upside to the back line.

Riverhounds SC 2021 Roster update 

The signing brings the number of players under contract with the Hounds to 10, as plans continue to take shape in anticipation of the 2021 season.

Players currently under contract:

Forwards – Russell Cicerone, Albert Dikwa, Alex Dixon

Midfielders – Danny Griffin, Kenardo Forbes, Anthony Velarde

Defenders – Jordan Dover, Preston Kilwien, Dani Rovira

Goalkeepers – Danny Vitiello

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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