The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC are back to work this week after an extended weekend following a road trip to Charleston which ended a 10-game in 41 day swing.
While the team is not in action, there’s been plenty going on.
The Hounds training schedule this week includes sessions Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week.
Things started off this week with a scrimmage between the pro team and Hounds Academy players.
Jelani Peters and Mekeil Williams will continue to be away from the club as they’re on internation duty with Trinidad & Tobago. We’ll have more on that below.
Head Coach Bob Lilley met up with the media on Tuesday to resume his weekly Zoom press conference schedule after a hiatus last week. We have more from Lilley’s press conference in this week’s Notebook.
In addition, PSN’s contributors Jordan Smith and Mark Goodman joined me for a Riverhounds SC Roundtable discussion on the team’s performance after 13 games.
Williams joins Peters as the Soca Warriors compete in Gold Cup
Shortly before Trinidad and Tobago began playing in the proper Gold Cup tournament after earning a spot in qualifying rounds, Riverhounds SC defender Mekeil Williams was called to be with his national team.
Williams joined Noah Powder, as the pair was cleared by Concacaf to join the team in Texas as immediate replacements for skipper Khaleem Hyland and attacking midfielder Judah Garcia, who have been indefinitely ruled out of TT’s Gold Cup campaign due to injury.
Along with his fellow countryman and Riverhounds SC teammate, Jelani Peters, who had started in each of the qualifying matches, Williams jumped right in a contributed off the bench in an inspiring team effort as the Soca Warriors played Mexico to an improbable 0-0 draw in Group A on the opening day of the CONCACAF Gold Cup at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday night.
Peters has played in the middle of a three-man center back pairing — and at times — five man back line for T&T. In addition, he earned an assist in qualifying round play.
Mexico ended the match with 83 per cent possession as T&T were willing to sit back and counter-attack. TT took four shots in the match and Mexico had 30 attempts on goal.
The Hounds players and coaching staff were watching the match on Saturday and were excited to see their teammates playing for their national team.
“Yeah, I watched the game. It wasn’t the sexiest of matches. Maybe not the most exciting game, but having both of them play on that stage, that’s great for us,” Bob Lilley said.
Next up for Williams, Peters and T&T — they’ll play El Salvador on Wednesday, before facing Guatemala on Sunday in their final group match. The top two teams will advance to the knock-out phase.
USL Academy Cup matches come to Highmark Stadium
Riverhounds Development Academy will get a chance to bring the action to Highmark Stadium.
As the pro team got back in the swing of things on Monday, they took part in a 50-minute (two 25 minute halves) intrasquad scrimmage which included Academy players.
“It wasn’t really part of the prep for Loudoun, but it was a good way to get our legs back. Get acclaimated when we got back to the work week (on Monday),” Lilley said.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) July 12, 2021
As a new addition after previously launching the USL Academy Cup, the Academy League’s goal is to provide elite youth talent from across the USL landscape with an additional opportunity to compete at a high level while digging a clear youth-to-professional path in each USL club community.
The Hounds came away with a loss and a draw on the road in their first two matches against Indianapolis and Dayton, respectively, and they are looking to get their first win when they host the first two of three home matches, the first on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Louisville City FC.
The team plays again Saturday at 2 p.m. against another Kentucky team, Kings Hammer FC, in a match that will be a warm-up for the pro team’s match at 7 p.m. against Loudoun United FC.
“We’re very excited,” Hounds Academy midfielder Gabe Norris said. “You can’t beat the professional atmosphere here at Highmark Stadium. It’s very fitting for a league such as USL Academy.”
In preparation for the start of the USL Academy League, the Hounds first brought together players from various age groups from the birthyear 2002-06 age groups in order to make one, cohesive team.
Norris, being a center midfielder ready to head to college as a 2003 birth-year player, indicated the struggles the team has faced due to the age differences when preparing for each game.
“It’s been difficult,” Norris said. “Our youngest guys have 2005 birth years. We’ve had to take them under our wing and introduce them to the fast-paced game that they may not have experienced yet.”
Additional Highlights from Bob LIlley’s press conference
On having extended time off and facing Loudoun United for the third time this season…
“Hopefully we’ve learned a lot from the early part of the season. The time off helped. We’re back and the guys have trained well thus far this week.
“Last time out (vs Loudoun), we had heavy squad rotation. We have to match their intensity. We would like to be more aggressive from the start of the match. Last time out, they took it to us. It felt like we were defending too much. Don’t think we did enough. That has to change.”
“We can’t just expect to get a result because we’ll be at home. We have to come out on the front foot.”
Takeaways on new acquisition, Tom Judge, loanee from Nashville SC, who will provide depth for the Hounds’ back line
He’s been here and with us now for more than a week. It’s obvious the next couple of games, without Jelani (Peters) and Mekeil (Williams) we may need to use him. He’s been getting up to speed as much as possible. We’ve used a lot of players. The question is, can we handle this much squad roatation. I think we can.”
Assessing the growth and development of younger players, Louis Perez, Tommy Williamson and Anthony Velarde, who’ve begun to have more impact
“It wasn’t easy at first. There was an adjustment period. We ask a lot from our players, put in a lot of different tactics. They struggled early, but they showed up ready.”
“Louis has helped us the past few games. His ability on the ball. His confidence in playing with the group continues to grow. He had that goal at Loudoun. Tommy Williamson was big for us at Charleston. Also, Anthony Velarde has been taking a step forward too.”
Thoughts on contributions from forwards and attacking players who played bulk of minutes thus far this season (Albert Dikwa, Russell Cicerone and Alex Dixon) and where they need to improve.
‘In my opinion, none of them have nailed it yet.”
“They’ve worked hard. Overall, our personnel movement has been better. It wasn’t early in the first few games, but it’s been better of late. The standard that they have and that we have on them is very high. We’re pushing them. It’s go to be better. We keep pushing. We can pass through the lines better.”
“Albert has been huge at times. He’s capable of getting more goals for us though. (Alex) Dixon has played well, but needs to be more consistently dangerous. Russell (Cicerone) had a good start. He’s cooled off a bit. But we’re starting to get more contributions from others. Louis (Perez) and Tommy Williamson have made an impact.”
“We’re going to keep pushing them. It’s coming. It’s going to get better,”
“The defense has also allowed too many opportunities. We have to get better there too. Our goalkeepers have come up with many big saves. They’ve come up big, so that’s another area we need to work on.”
PSN’s Hounds Coverage This Week
We’ll have Jordan Smith, Matt Gajtka and Mark Goodman at Highmark Stadium on Saturday for the Loudoun United match. Look for coverage throughout the day along with post-game reaction, recaps and analysis from our team.
In case you missed it, Goodman and Smith Joined me for a Riverhounds Roundtable discussion over the weekend, as we broke down the Hounds season to this point.