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Hounds Notebook: Despite ‘wild’ travel itinerary, Lilley’s focused on buckling down and delivering more wins

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

This week, it was revealed Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley is the USL Championship’s all-time winning coach, with the most regular season wins since the league’s modern era began in 2011.

So what is he going to do next?

“We’re about to go on a wild trip,” Lilley told Pittsburgh Soccer Now on Thursday.

That’s right, for the first time in club history, the unbeaten Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will head to Las Vegas, Nevada for a late (Pacific Time) Saturday afternoon duel in the desert with the Las Vegas Lights. (Kickoff will be 7 p.m. EDT).

The Hounds will be traveling on Friday to Vegas, then will stay there through Sunday, then take a red eye back to Pittsburgh on Sunday night/Monday morning, where they’ll have to turn around, get back on a bus, then head to Cincinnati ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match.

Lilley is doing everything he can to make sure his team remains focused on the tasks at hand, despite the distractions that come with being in the City of Lights and a tight travel schedule with a quick turnaround to play a Major League Soccer team on the road.

“How we do in the first game, really can affect the whole week,” Lilley explained. “We’ve got to buckle down. Staff, players, all of us. It’s an important week for us. Anytime you can start the week with a good result, that will help. We are going to put our best foot forward over the weekend, and hopefully can go to Cincinnati with some momentum.”

The Hounds coach did also add that the team will be staying in Las Vegas on Saturday night and will have some extra time on Sunday.

“They could stick coins in a few slots for all I care,” Lilley said.

“After the game (on Saturday), I want for us to be focused on the game on Tuesday. As long as everything stays on schedule, we get in on time, I am sure they’ll be dialed in and ready for the next game. We’ll have to do some recovery on Sunday morning but the guys will have some extra time on their hands while we’re there.”

LIlley Heads the USL Championship’s All-Time Coaching Wins List

This year’s edition of the Riverhounds SC feature the league’s all-time leading goal scorer (Dane Kelly) and the all-time leading assist man (Kenardo Forbes).

Now, they also can boast the winningest coach in the USL Championship’s regular season.

Lilley has passed longtime contemporary Mike Anhaeuser for the top spot in the list.

“It’s nice to be recognized. I’ve been with good organizations. The players are the ones really responsible for all those wins,” Lilley said.

The veteran coach, who posts an overall 322-149-131 record with the Hershey Wildcats, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps, Detroit Ignition (indoor), Rochester Rhinos and the Riverhounds. He is a five-time Coach of the Year winner, won USL championships with the Whitecaps (2006) and Rhinos (2015), and has qualified his team for the playoffs in all 21 seasons.

The current recognition from the league spans Lilley’s time with the Rochester Rhinos (2011, 2014-17) and Riverhounds SC (2018-present) Lilley has now accumulated a regular-season record of 132-52-78 in the Championship, adding to his prior success in the USL A-League and First Division with the Hershey Wildcats, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps and Rhinos.

Lilley made a point to point out that he has “more wins on the other side” of his time in the current USL Championship, acknowledging his years of coaching in the second division prior to the current version of the USL Championship’s run of the past decade plus.

“I began coaching in 1997. I coached guys who scored over 100 goals. I have more wins from ’97 to (20)11,” Lilley explained.

“There were a lot of great players and teams. It almost feels like it’s been erased. It’s strange to me.”

Most Head Coaching Victories in USL Championship History

1. Bob Lilley – 132 (ROC 2011, 2014-17, PIT 2018-present)
2. Mike Anhaeuser – 130 (CHS 2011-21)
3. John Wolyniec – 88 (NY 2015-21)
4. Leigh Cowlishaw – 85 (RIC 2011-18)
5. Mike Jeffries – 81 (CLT 2015-18, 2019-21)
6. Rick Schantz – 78 (PHX 2017, 2018-present)

Dikwa’s Impressive Early Season Production is No Surprise

For the first time all season, Lilley started Albert Dikwa and Dane Kelly, and the results were impressive.

Dikwa scored twice, had an assist, and was named the USL Championship’s Player of the Week to help lead the Hounds to a 4-3 win at Tulsa on Saturday. Kelly was in the higher, target forward spot, also added a goal.

This is the type of production that Lilley had evisioned when he first signed Dikwa in 2020.

“He didn’t arrive until the end of the (2020) season, with just six games remaining,” Lilley stated. “Last year, he didn’t have a chance to get a full season, but he was extremely good for us. Unfortunately, he had an injury that set him back. He’s really diligent with his fitness. He’s very compettive.”

Thus far, Dikwa and Kelly are tied for the team lead with four goals apiece.

Lilley Plans Significant Squad Rotation

With three games in an eight day stretch, that includes the Hounds return home the following Saturday when they face what will be a well-rested Atlanta United 2 squad, Lilley has been preparing and expecting this since he put his roster together.

He said on Thursday he was putting in the final touches of what he expects to roll out over the next three games.

“We are going to use a rotation, all three games. Part of this is we have to be ready to use our depth,” Lilley said. “If you don’t use it, you won’t be ready.”

The Hounds have run out different starting lineups in each game, with 20 different field starters and three goalkeepers each getting action thus far in 2022.

“Some of the thought process ahead of this stretch, is to get everyone ready,” Lilley added. “This is what we’ve done so far this year. Fortunately, for the most part, we’ve been healthy, and that has helped.

Look for more coverage of the Hounds’ upcoming road matches on Pittsburgh Soccer Now through the weekend and including live, on-site coverage from Cincinnati next week. We’ll have more details to share soon!

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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