The long wait is finally over, as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC kickoff its preseason today.
Feels like Christmas morning! Hounds are back pic.twitter.com/kXUjfMizy0
— Justin McCauley (@justinjmac) March 29, 2021
And for some, like Casey Bartlett-Scott, this will be the fulfillment of reaching a dream.
Bartlett-Scott has put everything on hold to return to the United States to play professional soccer, following a successful, non-traditional college career in his early to mid-20s at Columbia College and spending a few summers with the Erie Commodores of the NPSL.
In fact, the Portsmouth, England native has quit the project manager apprenticeship he started with Portsmouth City Council earlier this year to pursue his passion and commit to a professional deal with Pittsburgh.
Bartlett-Scott explained to the Portsmouth publication The News over the weekend: ‘I’m definitely looking to go out there and make a career out of it.
‘It’s quite old to go your first year as a pro at 26. I thought it was my last chance to do it, so why not?”
Bartlett-Scott has not yet arrived in Pittsburgh as he’s waiting on his visa.
When he does join the Hounds at the start of preseason camp, it will be part of a roster that includes 18 signed players.
In addition, the club will have some players with the team on trial, but that number will be less than usual.
"I like where our roster is at right now. Compared to past years, we’re way ahead of schedule." @RiverhoundsSC HC Bob Lilley spoke with @pghsoccernow's @JohnKrysinsky about the club's preseason, which is set to start next week. https://t.co/3YJZhmlO60
— Nicholas Murray (@NJEMurray) March 24, 2021
After the 2020 season ended in disappointment, the Hounds and Head Coach Bob Lilley had to face the prospects of seeing more top players from recent years test the waters of free agency. This resulted in departures of some key contributors including Robbie Mertz, Ryan James, Steevan Dos Santos and Ropapa Mensah.
Despite losing some key players, the Hounds are still keeping a decent core of players intact.
“The past year has been challenging, so we’re eager about getting started.” Lilley said recently.
“We’ll be more focused, specific about what we can do with this group,” Lilley added “I like where our roster is at right now. Compared to past years, we’re way ahead of schedule and we’ll have a good core group to work with from the beginning of camp.”
They’ll have its captain from the past three seasons and the USL Championship’s all-time assist leader, midfielder Kenardo Forbes, who’s been Lilley’s on-field lieutenant back along with Jordan Dover, a dependable right outside back/winger, Dani Rovira, a versatile wide option, a pair younger attacking midfielders in Danny Griffin and Anthony Velarde, speedy topman Albert Dikwa and last year’s USL Championship Golden Glove recipient, goalkeeper, Danny Vitiello.
In the off season, Lilley and his assistant Dan Visser put forth an aggressive effort to bring in numerous additional veteran players who have been battle-tested in the USL ranks and elsewhere, including those with Major League Soccer (MLS) and experience playing overseas.
The newest players include three high energy, speedy forwards and winger including Alex Dixon, Russell Cicerone and Josh Gatt, who together could very likely, along with Dikwa, could change the complexion of the Hounds’ attack this season.
Joining Forbes, Griffin and Velarde in the central and attacking midfield spots will be veteran Todd Warton and Louis Perez, who comes straight from college ranks, where he excelled as a play maker and dead ball specialist at Central Florida.
While Dover and Rovira provide some stability and continuity as outside backs, the area where Pittsburgh has opted to rebuild completely is in the central back line, which still looks like a work-in-progress as camp begins.
The Hounds signed Preston Kilwien (NY Red Bulls II) and Bartlett-Scott to fill in the central defense, but lost veteran Alex DeJohn, when they released him a few weeks ago so he could sign with Atlanta United of MLS. It really is too bad that Bartlett-Scott is not ready to start with the team right away, as this area could use some work in terms of building chemistry.
In addition to Dover and Rovira, the Hounds also signed another MLS veteran Mekeil Williams, who’s most natural position is left back, but he could also fill into the central back line too. As is the case with a lot of their signing strategy this off season, the Hounds also opted to bring in a young, promising player into the mix at this position too, with the addition of Ezra Armstrong, who at 22-years old has already played in USL and had a few experiences overseas.
Vitiello will also be joined by a pair of newcomers, Jake Leeker and Chris Morrish, who provide plenty of depth as the goalkeeper position appears to be well set.
LIlley and Visser are most likely bringing along trialists into camp to compete for most spots on the back line, but also they may be looking for more midfield depth along with an additional goal keeper.
Here’s a look at the players on trial this week:
Name Pos Ht Wt Hometown (Previous Club)
Jonathan Caparelli D 5-10 146 Buenos Aires, Argentina (Chattanooga Red Wolves)
Rodney Michael F 5-8 150 Freetown, Sierra Leone (UCSB)
Jelani Peters D 6-4 190 Port of Spain, Tinidad and Tobago (Toronto FC II)
Eduard Puga M 5-8 150 Sancti Spirtus, Cuba (Ringkobing IF)
Stefan Rokvic M 6-1 167 Muskego, Wisconsin (Wright State University)
Shane Weidt D 6-3 185 Akron, Ohio (University of Pittsburgh)
The Hounds will begin a six-game preseason schedule against Gannon University on Thursday.
As for the regular season schedule, all we know right now is that the Hounds could be starting as early as May 8, but they’ll definitely be playing in Hartford Athletic’s home opener on May 15, then not open its home schedule until Sunday, June 6 against Western Conference club, Austin Bold FC.
Look for the most comprehensive Riverhounds SC coverage throughout the preseason and through the 2021 season right here on Pittsburgh Soccer Now.
The club has produced a few ‘Getting To Know’ videos featuring some of the newest Hounds’ players including Preston Kilwien, Alex Dixon, Josh Gatt and Todd Warton.
RIVERHOUNDS ROSTER & PROJECTED DEPTH CHART (2021)