The 2021 edition of the USL Championship will see a number of changes from last season with new faces involved. The division gets ready to welcome Oakland Roots SC who will make their debut in the competition having risen up from the National Independent Soccer Association.
But the biggest change sees no fewer than five teams having departed the USL. In some uncertain times, it’s no great surprise to see clubs folding or being withdrawn by their parents in the MLS.
It all leaves us with a streamlined format for the new campaign and will that spell good news for local representatives the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
Riverhounds impressed during the regular season and eventually finished in third place in the Eastern Conference. On the back of that run, Coach Bob Lilley’s men comfortably made it through to the playoffs where their campaign finally ended at the quarter final stage.
A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Louisville City FC would have been a disappointing way in which to end 2020 but it does offer hope of an improvement as the new season approaches.
Early market indications from sportsbooks listed by legalbetting.com put the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in mid-range while 2020 USL Championship finalists Phoenix Rising and Tampa Bay Rowdies are up among the favorites.
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Having won the Eastern Conference back in 2019, the minimum target for Lilley and his Riverhounds squad is to make the playoffs once again. Whether the betting markets start to shorten as the season commences remains to be seen but the club are certainly working hard to make improvements among their personnel.
Falling into Place
Coach Bob Lilley has been eager to go back to his former teams as he looks to build the Riverhounds Roster for 2021 and beyond. One player who may not spend too many years at the Highmark Stadium is Alex Dixon who will celebrate his 31st birthday in February but the forward will bring invaluable experience to the squad as it looks to battle for honors.
Played out on the wing, Dixon’s task is to supply assists for the front men but he’s also made useful scoring contributions during his long career. The former US Under 17 international has played for no fewer than eight clubs and enjoyed his most productive spells at Hartford Athletic and Oklahoma City Energy.
The other new arrival is Russell Cicerone and, with his former club Saint Louis FC having folded, Lilley looks to have identified another pivotal performer. Having started his pro career as a forward, Cicerone’s most productive spell came during the 2015/16 season when he scored 20 goals in 22 games for the Michigan Bucks. These days, the 26 year old finds himself out on the wing but he can still chip in with important goals and help drive the Riverhounds towards their targets in 2021.
Aims and Goals
It’s not impossible that Lilley will continue to source new players as the season approaches but the acquisition of Cicerone and Dixon fills a gap in the roster. Better service to the front men is required in 2021 and both men can provide the assists while chipping in with vital goals as well.
The new look USL has taken away four clubs from the schedules and that means that Pittsburgh Riverhounds simply must target those playoff places as a bare minimum. That Eastern Conference title in 2019 remains their biggest achievement but, with a little tinkering to the personnel, Coach Lilley may just be ready to deliver an even bigger prize.