We promised there would be some ‘good news’ to share today from the Riverhounds SC.
Sure enough, the club has announced that it has reached a transfer agreement with Atlanta United II to bring midfielder and Pittsburgh native Robbie Mertz back to the Hounds.
The transfer will be completed pending USL and U.S. Soccer Federation approval.
Mertz, 25, spent the past year and a half with Atlanta after signing there as a free agent before the 2021 season. In 48 matches with Atlanta, Mertz scored four goals and had 11 assists. His five assists last year led the team, and with six this season, he is tied for fourth in the USL Championship.
Along with new teammates Kenardo Forbes (seven assists) and Alex Dixon (six), the Hounds now have three players among the league’s top five in that statistic.
“I’m grateful to the club. They graciously allowed me to pursue the opportunity in Atlanta, and while I didn’t reach my goal of making it to the MLS team, I learned some things down there as a person and as a leader with Atlanta United II,” Mertz said.
“When I was given the opportunity to leave Atlanta, I just felt there was some unfinished business back in Pittsburgh. I have a lot of friends, fans, people in Pittsburgh, and I felt some loyalty to the club. Sometimes in this game, it’s too much of a business, and people forget the humanity of it. It’s good to be back around my friends and family, and we’re going to pursue a championship really hard.”
A graduate of Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, Mertz played college soccer at Michigan before being drafted by the Colorado Rapids in the fourth round of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.
Mertz joined the Hounds after being released by the Rapids and had two very productive seasons in Pittsburgh. As a rookie in 2019, he had six goals and four assists, helping the team claim first place in the Eastern Conference. He continued to produce in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, notching five goals and four assists in just 16 games as the Hounds returned to the playoffs.
“Robbie was a very important player for us during the 2019 and 2020 seasons and has continued to develop into one of the more versatile and complete midfielders in the league,” head coach Bob Lilley said. “He’s competitive, technically gifted and understands our system. His energy and ideas make him dangerous in attacking moments, and we are excited to have him back with the team representing the Steel City.”
Mertz has rejoined the Hounds in training this week and be eligible to suit up when the Hounds travel to face Hartford Athletic on July 23. His first chance to make an appearance in front of his hometown crowd will be July 30, when the Hounds host FC Tulsa at 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium.
Instant Analysis: Impact of Robbie Mertz Transfer
Robbie Mertz has continued to evolve as a player with Atlanta United 2 during the past season and a half, furthering his leadership credentials and ability as a playmaker.
There’s no doubt that he will be a welcome addition to the Riverhounds current roster and rotation.
Robbie Mertz over his last 10 matches with #ATLUTD 2: 3 goals, 5 assists, and an average FotMob rating of 7.91. This includes back to back multi-assist games against El Paso and Birmingham, two pretty strong teams
— ATLUTD Prospects (@ATLUTDprospects) July 7, 2022
What this does now, is provides a team in contention, and its Head Coach Bob Lilley with additional veteran option and significant depth to the central midfield rotation.
Robbie Mertz has been an invaluable presence with #ATLUTD 2 in his time here, but with the move to MLS Next Pro coming soon, always seemed unlikely he'd continue with the team much longer. This move allows Mertz to go back home and immediately contribute for a playoff contender
— ATLUTD Prospects (@ATLUTDprospects) July 20, 2022
Mertz will jump back into the central midfield grouping alongside Kenardo Forbes and Danny Griffin. This likely could see some other players with changing roles. Dani Rovira, who has played more in the central midfield this season, may likely move to become part of the outside back or winger rotation, while Luis Argudo, who has not played as much in recent weeks, is likely out of the central midfield rotation picture, and essentially becomes an option off the bench or spot starter if Russ Cicerone and Alex Dixon need a night off. Angelo Kelly-Rosales is also another player who can be an important part of the central midfield rotation, but will likely see only spot starts and could be a defensive sub late in games when the Hounds have the lead.
Huge pick up and I got my wish early. Cicerone, Mertz, and Dixon in the midfield feeding Dikwa, Kelly, & Kizza is lethal. Tremendous depth. Forbes can now play HCMF with Griffin and the 4-2-3-1 looks like a fantastic system. Welcome home Robbie! Awesome sauce!
— Chip Munn (@ChipMunn1) July 20, 2022
Additionally, Mertz brings another level of leadership and continuity, as he’ll return to play alongside Griffin and Forbes. That is a central midfield that is even more dangerous with the continued growth and understanding of USL Championship-level soccer of both Griffin and Mertz over the past two seasons.
As the Hounds make a push to finish at the top of the table, and make a run to win the USL Cup in October and November, the addition of Robbie Mertz will give them another battle-tested presence and a player who will be determined to help lead his hometown club to a league championship.