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Riverhounds will begin preseason camp with ‘a lot of pieces to add to the puzzle’


Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley admits that as he enters his sixth season with the club, it might take a bit longer to build his roster. ,

“Some years, we’ve gone into (preseason training) camp in the range of 14-to-16 players already signed,” Lilley said in early January on Pittsburgh Soccer Now’s Sounding Off on Soccer podcast.

Not this year.

As the Hounds begin training on Monday, as they’ll use both the Montour Junction Complex in Coroapolis and Highmark Stadium, they’ll have enough to field one starting line-up of eleven, though they’ve also shared that more signing announcements are coming soon.

It’s a pretty solid core group, with a couple of midfielders who likely will hold the leadership mantle, including the USL Championship’s all-time leading assist man, Kenardo Forbes, who, at 34 years of age, will be a de facto assistant coach on the field, and Pittsburgh native Robbie Mertz, who returned to his hometown club in 2022, after a season and a half with Atlanta United 2.

“I think we have the right mix.  I like this group,” Lilley stated. “It’s a process, and every year since I’ve been here, we’ve built a solid roster, and when I look back, maybe we’re not as solid in some areas as I’d like to be, but I like what we have to build upon this year.”

Here’s the current roster:

  • Goalkeepers: Jahmali Waite.
  • Defenders: Arturo Ordóñez, Nate Dossantos, Luke Biasi, Joe Farrell
  • Midfielders: Dani Rovira, Marc Ybarra, Robbie Mertz, Kenardo Forbes.
  • Forwards: Albert Dikwa. Edward Kizza

If you had to draw together a starting XI from the current group the Hounds have on the roster heading into camp, here’s what things could look like.

Of course, Lilley along with his staff that includes long-time assistant Dan Visser and new goalkeepers coach, Jon Busch, will be looking to double the roster size over the course of the next five weeks, as the Hounds prepare for its season opener in early March at Birmingham.

The Hounds held multiple combines here in Pittsburgh and spend countless hours in the off season doing extensive scouting.  From this legwork, the coaching staff will likely invited anywhere to a dozen or so more players at the start of camp.

What that means is the Hounds will be bringing in a host of non-roster invitees on trial.

Lilley describes it as being ‘survival of the fittest’ as sometimes he’ll get answers pretty quickly, and sometimes it takes a little longer.

“If we’re looking specifically for a right back, maybe we’ll look at 10 guys during the combines, and looking at film, then we’ll bring two or three into camp,” Lilley explained.

“But most importantly, we look further and at other things. They have to fit into our system.  We have to do our homework. Are they coachable? Can they adjust tactically? And sometimes, we have to look how we want to disburse our budget.

Lilley also said that they are still eyeing a few players who are still out there as free agents.

The Hounds showed they’re willing to spend some money this offseason to pick-up a valuable veteran addition.

The veteran coach admitted that he wants this year’s group to be more dynamic, more athletic and anticipates that it will be a younger group overall.

Last season, the Hounds entered preseason with three players over 30 years of age, if you count Alex Dixon and Dane Kelly along with Forbes.

This season, Forbes is the lone exception, and among the rest of the group, only one other player is over age 26, former All-USL Championship defender Joe Farrell, 28, who was acquired from Phoenix, and previously played for Lilley in Rochester.

The roster building process is nothing new to Lilley, who has never had a losing season and never missed the playoffs.  The USL Hall of Fame coach has developed a knack for finding players out of college who went under the radar during the MLS SuperDraft or players who have made some rounds in other preseason camps, but ultimately land in Pittsburgh during the preseason.

“The marketplace has changed quite a bit. There’s a lot more competition, but there’s also a lot more players,” Lilley admits.

“Five years ago, there was no (USL) League One. There was no MLS Next (Pro). The (transfer) portal system has also changed how we view college players. There are more players who are going straight to the pros too.”

Lilley and his staff will begin the evaluation process that will last nearly a month, and by the end of the process, they will hope to bring up the roster to 20 to 22 players at the start of the season on March 9.  The Hounds will get right into a busy preseason schedule too, playing six matches over the course of the five week process, beginning with a trip next weekend to face Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew.

“We’re anxious to get started. Once the preseason gets going, it gets real. We’re still in the discovery phase as a team. We have some good ideas about what we want to be.  I feel good about this season ahead.” Lilley said.

“There’s a lot of pieces to add to the puzzle.”

More on the 2023 Riverhounds SC 

• As of today, the Hounds have 11 players under contract for the season, and additional signings will be announced soon. Other non-roster invitees will be taking part in practice on a trial basis.

• Last season, the Hounds went 16-9-9 in the USL Championship — fifth in the Eastern Conference — and advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals before being eliminated by Louisville City FC in a penalty shootout.

• With five straight seasons qualifying for the postseason, the Hounds hold the second-longest playoff streak in the USL Championship (trailing only Louisville’s eight) and the second-longest playoff streak among Pittsburgh professional teams (trailing only the NHL’s Penguins with 16).

• Head coach Bob Lilley is entering his sixth season leading the Hounds. He has an 83-35-45 record leading Pittsburgh, and the USL Hall of Famer has not missed the postseason in 22 seasons as a head coach at the pro level.

• Team captain Kenardo Forbes was a Second Team All-USL Championship selection last season after posting a career-best 10 assists. He has been an All-USL player all five seasons since joining Pittsburgh in 2018.

• The Hounds’ current roster includes one Pittsburgh native (Robbie Mertz) and two players who played collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh (Arturo Ordóñez, Edward Kizza).

• The club is entering its 24th season of play after initially debuting in 1999, which makes it the second-oldest team in the USL Championship behind only the Charleston Battery (1993).

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 Kenardo Forbes

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