It’s already been another eventful week for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, with the news that Upper St. Clair native Robbie Mertz is returning to the club, per transfer from Atlanta United 2.
Now, the team is on the road again for a Saturday evening clash in Hartford (7 p.m. kickoff – 22 The Point & ESPN+), where they’ll be facing a side that has struggled this season, but have always provided tough matches for the Hounds.
The Hounds had a battle against the Athletic in their first match, the home opener, winning the contest, 2-1, at Highmark Stadium in March.
The team traveled to Hartford on Friday, having to get some training at a makeshift location.
One other note, earlier this season, when the Hounds played Hartford, they hadn’t yet signed Corey Hertzog. The one-time Hound is sixth in club history with 27 goals in his two seasons in Pittsburgh (2016-17), but he has just one goal this year for Hartford. Joel Johnson leads the hosts with four goals. Overall, in USL Championship’s history, current Riverhounds SC forward Dane Kelly is tops, with 105 goals, and Hertzog, is second with 76 goals.
Look for coverage from Pittsburgh Soccer Now team on Saturday, including Jordan Smith providing updates on the live match blog and we plan to have post match reaction on Pittsburgh Sports Live.
How do Mertz and Kizza Fit Into the Equation?
As mentioned in the lead to the preview, Robbie Mertz is very happy to be back in Pittsburgh, where he’s looking to make contributions to helping his hometown team make another run to the top.
He’s also not the only addition to the fold.
Former Pitt striker and New England Revolution loanee, Edward Kizza has been added to the roster too prior to last week’s match. Kizza didn’t make the trip with the Hounds to New Mexico, when they battled back for a 1-1 draw in less than favorable circumstances.
Now the question is, with the addition of Mertz and Kizza, where do they fit?
Mertz comes into this match in excellent form especially as a playmaker, breaking out into a recent string of assists with Atlanta United 2, where does he fit into the lineup and rotation?
We took a look at this a bit in our instant analysis after the transfer was announced here on Pittsburgh Soccer Now.
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.
Marc Ybarra is a former teammate of Mertz at the University of Michigan. The first-year player has been a regular part of the Hounds rotation, making 14 appearances, including six starts this season. Much like Kelly-Rosales, Ybarra will likely be used in situations off the bench or as a spot starter too. On many other teams across the USLC, Ybarra could be a regular, ongong starter, but he’ll likely be a role player for the rest of this season.
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 seasoned with the continued growth and understanding of USL Championship-level soccer that Griffin and Mertz have gained over the past two seasons playing a lot of minutes. 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 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.
The addition of Kizza adds depth to a rotation at center forward that includes the USL Championship’s All-Time leading scorer Dane Kelly, third-year Hound Albert Dikwa and 28-year old William Eyang.
Dikwa has carried the load in terms of minutes played and starts in the past two months, and has been solid, producing six goals and doing a lot of the dirty work. While Kelly started off the season strong, with six goals through April, but has been playing less minutes through the middle portion of the season.
However, Kelly did come up with a very important goal last week, to end his scoring drought, in equalizing in the latter stages of the second half at New Mexico.
Bringing Kizza on provides insurance and another scoring option for the Hounds.
Lilley has told Pittsburgh Soccer Now on several occasions that he really likes a lot of Kizza’s attributes, including his strength, skill and instincts, and believes he’ll be a solid player with the Riverhounds.
What the addition of Kizza, 23, may also do is take some of the burden off the legs of Dikwa, who has started five of the last seven matches, while the Hounds can have another center forward option who can adapt into a high pressing system, cover a lot of ground and is adept and dangerous in holding the ball up and making runs behind and into gaps in the defense.
It also may provide Lilley and the coaching staff with more tactical options, like playing two or even three forwards in the starting lineup, while utilizing the club’s leading scorer the past two seasons, Russell Cicerone, as an attacking midfielder or a winger. It could also mean more opportunities for Alex Dixon to play from width and even as a dangerou option at outside back.
Should be fun to see how Kizza progresses with the Hounds and if he can further bolster the rotation and squad depth.
Ray Reid Leads Another New Regime for the Athletic
It’s been a whirlwind for Ray Reid since joining the Hartford Athletic in May as the club’s Technical Director.
The 62-year-old Reid, who established himself as a top-level coach in the College ranks, primarily with University of Connecticut, winning a National Title, is currently juggling two roles with the Hartford Athletic: interim coach and technical director.
He was named interim coach in June after former coach Harry Watling resigned and returned to England to tend to family matters.
The Athletic have struggled this season, spending most of the time in the bottom part of the USL Championship’s Eastern Division standings. Overall, Hartford is 4-11-4 (16 points), good for 10th in the Conference.
Reid is looking into fixing some things that will get the Athletic back into contention this season and beyond. Since the Athletic came into the USL Championship in 2019, the Hounds have the edge in the series. Even the one season when the Athletic surged past Pittsburgh late in the shortened 2020 season, the Hounds beat them twice in three matches.
“Ray has come in with amazing ideas, his new style and that added on to us winning some games,” Prince Sayde, Hartford’s right winger, told the Hartford Courant.
“He goes hard. Like Harry, he’s pushing us to be better players.”
Reid also told the Courant that he doesn’t intend to be the long-term solution as the club’s coach, as he’s currently interviewing candidates to find a replacement, so he can get back to focus on the role he was hired for: Technical Director.
“I’m looking for a winner,” Reid said, “a guy that wants to win the league and will have the respect of the locker room, a guy with experience.”
First, Reid will be trying to deliver a win while at the helm to help turn his club’s fortunes and get them back into contention.