The Riverhounds have reached the third week of the preseason, but for the first time in many years, we haven’t had a chance to get a closer look at the players and the team in action, due, understandably, to COVID-19 protocols currently in place that have kept the media from being at the matches.
Another interesting twist for the Hounds is that they’re playing more preseason matches on the road than we’ve seen in a long time. After opening with two home matches, they have a three game stretch traveling west to Cincinnati, Louisville and Indianapolis in consecutive weeks.
Riverhounds have their in-camp roster at 24; 18 signed players, 6 unsigned.
Seems like the roster is pretty firm at this point.
— Possibly ‘Rapids Rabbit’ (@soccer_rabbi) April 12, 2021
Mark Goodman cites what we mostly knew heading into the preseason, that the Hounds’ roster appears unwavering, with most of the competition coming for roster spots at center back, midfield and potentially another forward.
The Hounds will train all week at Highmark Stadium, wrapping things up with a Friday/Saturday trip to the Derby City, where they’ll face Louisville City FC on Saturday (3 p.m. kickoff). In case you are wondering, the match will be played at Lynn Family Stadium and be open to the public.
Week 3 Trialists
Heading into this week, there’s an addition of one new non-contract player invited to camp, Christian Dean, and the removal of two trialists (Jonathan Caparelli and Eduard Puga) no longer in camp.
Name Position Ht Wt Hometown (Previous Club)
Rennico Clarke D 6-4 195 Kingston, Jamaica (Charleston Battery)
*Christian Dean D 6-3 198 East Palo Alto, Calif. (Chicago Fire)
Rodney Michael F 5-8 150 Freetown, Sierra Leone (UC-Santa Barbara)
Jelani Peters D 6-4 190 Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (Toronto FC II)
Stefan Rokvic M 6-1 167 Muskego, Wisc. (Wright State University)
Shane Wiedt D 6-3 185 Akron, Ohio (University of Pittsburgh)
As for Christian Dean, the former third-overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and one-time USMNT U-23 player makes an interesting addition, being that he announced his retirement from pro soccer in 2018, when he was previously on the roster of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire.
Dean joined the Fire in a trade with Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Aug. 9, 2017, and made five appearances during his time in Chicago.
“It’s unfortunate that Christian suffered so many injuries that kept him from realizing his potential,” said Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodriguez at the time.
“He is a good man and we wish him success and happiness in his next endeavors.”
Dean began his professional career when he was selected by Whitecaps FC in the first round (third overall) of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft after a standout collegiate career at the University of California-Berkeley. He made his professional debut as a second half substitute in Whitecaps FC’s 1-1 draw at Chivas USA on March 16, 2014.
The Hounds are still very much in the market for center backs, and Head Coach Bob Lilley will get a chance to see first hand this week if the 28-year old could be a good fit and find a place to revive his pro soccer career in Pittsburgh.
The only two non-roster players who have started for the Hounds in the last two preseason matches have been center backs.
On Saturday, against FC Cincinnati, Lilley went with Peters and Wiedt. On Thursday, Peters was the lone trialist in the starting eleven (playing along side Preston Kilwien, while Wiedt and Clark each came on in the 66th minute).
Beating an MLS team is nice, but lets not get too carried away
The biggest thing gained from beating a Major League Soccer side, even one that is struggling as FC Cincy, is that the Hounds had an opportunity to play in a match at a higher level than they’re used to early in the preseason.
Lilley alluded to this in his post-match comments on Saturday evening.
“We needed a game with the ball zipping around and an opponent who was fast and could hurt us,” Lilley said. “I’m somewhat pleased because we competed hard, made a lot of plays and found two pretty good goals while they could only get one. We were fortunate to get a win, but we knew it would be a game where we were severely tested. For this early in the preseason, we did a lot of good things.”
Dikwa appears to become central figure in Hounds attacking plans in 2021
Albert Dikwa is the only Hounds player with more than one goal this preseason, scoring against Gannon and then on Saturday against FC Cincy, as he’s been a regular starter in each of the first three preseason matches.
“I think that was a very good test. At the beginning, that was a very tough game because the speed of play, the quality that the MLS players have. … I want to say I enjoy it, and I do enjoy it, playing against good players, but it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice, having to be there for your teammates,” Dikwa said.
The striker from Cameroon is doing his part to make himself a fixture atop the Hounds attack.
“I’ve been working hard during the offseason. I’m hungry this season. With the expectations that the coach has given us, which are very, very high, I feel like I should be doing better than two goals,” Dikwa said. “My role changed a lot, and the coach expects more from me than last year. It’s my second year, and I don’t want to be cocky, but the expectation is on me to be a leader in front, and I will try my best to help the team and make him proud.”
Dikwa was the only forward the Hounds brought back from last year’s squad. Lilley spoke highly of Dikwa’s abilities and assessing his play a few times last year, impressed with what he did, even as he joined the team past the midway point due to previous visa issues.
“In terms of getting in the right spots when we’re pressuring or building out of the back, there are certain release points and it’s hard to get that when you haven’t experienced it during training camp and a full season,” Lilley explained. “Sometimes you’re a little bit late to recognize those situations, but I think he (Dikwa) has adjusted to those situations quickly. He’s been effective for us in not a ton of minutes. He has a good engine, works hard, but also has pace to get in behind. Great goal the other night. I see him growing every week with our guys. I would expect he’ll play a big part as we go forward in the playoffs.”
Dikwa did play a big part in the Hounds’ lone playoff match, starting in the 2-0 loss at Louisville City, coming somewhat as a bit of a surprise in that Ropapa Mensah was in the startling lineup a lot more for the Hounds in 2020.
Lilley and the Hounds went into that match with an attacking mindset. Throughout the off season, Lilley kept making the point to me that he liked his team’s aggressive approach on the road in that match. With Dikwa at the top of the attack, I noted the following in my player grades after that match:
Had two touches inside the box — and one was the Hounds only shot on frame. If he tucks that one a foot over to the right — it might have been a different game. Had one shot (on frame), won 9 of 19 duels, won 4 fouls and had one successful cross
It’s clear in the 2021 preseason, Dikwa will be a big part of the Hounds’ attack, and thus far, he’s showing decent production.
No Action for these Hounds, yet
Only a few of the players on the 18-man current roster have not played in the preseason yet.
Thus far we haven’t seen Josh Gatt and Casey Bartlett-Scott, while Kenardo Forbes has only played in the latter stages of the second half in the first preseason contest against Gannon University.
This is little surprise about keeping Forbes, the 32-year old all-time leading assist man in the USL Championship, out of the starting line-up. This allows for the younger midfielders including Danny Griffin, Anthony Velarde and Louis Perez to gain valuable experience, carry the preseason load but maybe most importantly, continue to build chemistry with each other.
As for Bartlett-Scott, he’s the lone rostered player who has not joined the team yet, as he’s still dealing with getting his visa to make his way over to the states from his native England.