It’s another topsy-turvy week for the Riverhounds SC as they return to Loudoun United for their second midweek match against DC United’s affiliate club in Northern Virginia.
Then, on Saturday, at 7 p.m., they’ll host the Charlotte Independence in a pseudo-version of the Annual Independence Day extravaganza at Highmark Stadium.
The biggest challenge facing Bob Lilley, Dan Visser and the coaching staff will be putting together the right squad rotation for these two matches in a short period of time. Things worked out well in the previous three-game-in-eight day span when the Hounds had 19 players, with 17 different starters contribute in both the Indy Eleven and Tampa Bay Rowdies wins.
Another wrinkle to the selection puzzle involves who is available, as the back line is depleted with Jelani Peters on international duty (yes — it’s official — as after getting the start on Saturday he’s now with Trinidad & Tobago for Gold Cup preliminary rounds), and Jordan Dover still listed as questionable with a lower-body injury.
The Hounds might get creative again as they did two weeks ago in Indy, where Josh Gatt, a forward by trade, was rather effective playing as a right-side wing back.
Other lineup shuffling could involve a third start for goalkeeper Jake Leeker, while Anthony Velarde, who scored in the earlier meeting with Loudoun, could be tabbed for a repeat performance in the midfield, where Danny Griffin and Kenardo Forbes have been logging heavy minutes.
After training session last week, I caught up with Russell Cicerone, so what better way to start off the notebook then an interview with the Hounds leading goal scorer and we’ll also get you ready for the 4th of July game with a look back at the past games played from 2013-2019 at Highmark Stadium on Independence Day.
Cicerone Finding His Groove in Pittsburgh
After 10 games, Cicerone is having his best start of his professional career, as leads the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC with five goals.
The Michigan native has always had to push hard to make a name for himself.
“Nothing’s ever really come easy,” Cicerone said. “I went to (University of) Buffalo. A MAC (Midwestern Athletic Conference) school. I had a tremendous experience there. I always had to fight for everything I’ve gotten.”
Here’s our full interview with Cicerone on Pittsburgh Sports Live:
As a collegiate player, Cicerone scored 42 goals and 22 assists in 71 games for the Bulls from 2013-16. After an excellent freshman season, Cicerone still felt like he needed something else to help take his game to another level.
In the summer of 2014, Cicerone joined on to be part of FC Buffalo’s NPSL squad.
“The environment they put us in, it was high-level training and definitely prepared me for the next college season, in which I went on to have an excellent sophomore season,” Cicerone said.
Reflecting on his summer with FC Buffalo, Cicerone enjoyed every moment.
“I had a great season. I set the single season goal record there and was named to the All-NPSL team. It was a great experience. It was awesome to play for FC Buffalo, they get a ton of fans. The owners make it a great environment. From my experience, the people of Buffalo love their soccer,” Cicerone boasted.
“If you’re a young player looking for high-level playing experiences, that’s a place I would recommend going.”
Coming out of college, Cicerone was drafted by the Portland Timbers, but then spent the next four seasons competing in the USL Championship, with Portland, FC Cincinnati and the last two with Saint Louis FC.
With the versatility to play on the wing or in a central role, Cicerone scored five goals in each of the 2019 and 2020 seasons while totaling 49 appearances for Saint Louis.
In Pittsburgh, it appears that the Motor City native has taken his game to an even higher gear and may have found a place where he can thrive on a championship caliber contender.
“I’d been playing mostly as a winger for most clubs. Bob likes to switch formations. He’s asking a lot more of me, whether it’s to go through the middle, play it in the center of midfield or sometimes play as a winger. I’ve been able to do different things with my runs. Finding different ways to be dangerous,” Cicerone states.
“I read the game pretty well, so I can see the weak spots of the defense, whether they’re dropping or keeping the ball in front of them, or if they’re going to step up, making the runs behind. I can be dangerous in both of those types of ways.”
After a sluggish start, the Riverhounds SC are starting to look like a dangerous threat to challenge once again for supremacy in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference.
As the Hounds have raised their organizational standard for winning and elevated their success under Lilley in the last four years, Pittsburgh has now become a destination place for many aspiring professionals and those who got a head start on their careers playing for NPSL clubs.
“It’s been a very professional environment thus far,” Cicerone said. “There’s great chemistry here — and it’s a great environment to get better every day and to be one of the top teams in the USL (Championship).”
Independence Day Tradition Like No Other
Having a game on the same weekend as the 4th of July is better than having no game at all.
Last year, the Hounds missed out on playing their annual traditional 4th of July game at Highmark Stadium due to the pandemic. This year, it will be a day earlier.
And that’s just fine.
We’ve had some fun with this annual match over the years and have captured the action in an updated post last year on July 4.
Here’s a look back at the previous seven editions of the Fourth of July match, where the Hounds have no problem packing the Highmark Stadium stands. For the record, the Hounds hold a 4-2-1 record in these Fourth of July encounters.
Editor’s Note – portions of this article below are republished & updated from previous editions.
PSN Coverage This Week: Boots on the ground in Loudoun
I’ll be on vacation, working on my golf game in Hilton Head, but Jordan Smith and the rest of the gang will continue to chip in. Jordan will be at the match at Loudoun and we’ll have coverage of the match on July 3. Look for additional contributions from Mark Goodman too.