The Pulse of Pittsburgh Soccer is back as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC begin their 2024 campaign with their first training session on Monday.
The first week of camp will be all training sessions, with the first competitive matches against other teams starting with a pair of friendlies next week, as they host Indy Eleven on Tuesday, February 6 (Noon) and travel to Loudoun United FC on Friday, February 9 (1 p.m.).
Following a very successful 2023, winning the USL Championship’s Players Shield and making a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup while playing before record crowds at Highmark Stadium, the club has reloaded its roster, heading into camp with 19 players signed, plus a handful of non-roster invitees will be battling for roster spots when they begin practicing at Montour Junction Soccer Complex.
On one hand, things have never been better in terms of roster continuity, with 11 returning players.
On the other hand, there are question marks, as four key players from last year’s squad, including the USL Championship’s Player of the Year, Albert Dikwa, the USL Championship’s Defensive Player of the Year, Arturo Ordonez and three other starters from last year’s squad have signed elsewhere in the league.
Those looking at this team with the view that the glass is half full, see a strong core group of players who fully understand and have been successful under Head Coach Bob Lilley.
The group’s veterans will set the tone, primarily in the center and heart of the field, as longtime team captain and the USL Championship’s all-time assists leader, Kenardo Forbes, returns at 35 years of age, along with Danny Griffin and Robbie Mertz to anchor the team’s midfield, along with Dani Rovira, who enters his sixth season in Pittsburgh, and Luke Biasi, going into his third season with the club.
Beyond that, the Hounds exercised contract options for six other players who played one full season in Pittsburgh: Langston Blackstock, Junior Etou, Mike DeShields, Pat Hogan, Edward Kizza and Illal Osumanu.
As has been the case for many years under Lilley, it’s how the rest of the roster takes shape will be the most interesting thing to watch during the preseason and into the early parts of the season.
This is a formula is pretty common for the Hounds under Lilley’s guidance, as they seek the right balance of veteran leadership and players who can lead the way in carrying out his system and winning culture with new group that the coaching staff believes can step in to compete and make their mark at this level.
After a very quiet December and early January, the Riverhounds have announced most of the new player signings during the past week.
The biggest question mark might come with who will fill in the void left by Dikwa, who scored 20 goals in league play in 2023. The non-roster invitees provide for a fascinating list of trialists (always subject to change) scheduled to be with the team this week.
With the club’s sustained success under Lilley, having Championship aspirations and having a track record of young players blossoming under the tutelage of Lilley and his staff, Pittsburgh has become a destination place for aspiring pros.
Heading into the first week of camp, this list of hopefuls includes former Duquesne/West Allegheny standout, Nate Dragisich, Janvier Ramson, who excelled locally with Pittsburgh City United FC and at Carlow University, plus a few former MLS players, plus Kazaiah Sterling, a former Tottenham prospect and most recently leading scorer for Tormenta FC (USL League One).
As camp begins, there will a slightly shorter window during the preseason for the team to prepare, as the first regular season match will come on March 9, as the team will throw in five preseason contests along the way.
It will be a mad scramble, but should be a very competitive and interesting preseason.
If you’re a Pittsburgh Soccer fan, after swallowing a few tough pills with the departures of Dikwa, Ordonez, Marc Ybarra, Jahmali Waite and a few others, the glass still looks half full.
Pittsburgh Soccer Now‘s team will have a few new additions too as we head into another season of covering the Riverhounds. We are happy to welcome Colton Coreschi to our team. Colton and his wife recently moved to Pittsburgh. He once worked with USL and SBI Soccer.
Excited to share that we have new addition joining our growing @pghsoccernow team:
Colton has extensive experience writing about the Beautiful Game. Looking forward to his contributions!
You can follow him here: @cjcoreschi
— John Krysinsky (@JohnKrysinsky) January 26, 2024
Look for more to come this week, as Matthew Baldwin, Colton and maybe a few others will be providing reports from Montour, while I will also have a special Riverhounds’ guest or two on my podcast, Sounding Off on Soccer.
RIVERHOUNDS PRESEASON SCHEDULE
Tues. 6 Indy Eleven 12 p.m.
Fri. 9 Loudoun United FC 1 p.m.
Sun. 18 West Virginia 2 p.m.
Sat. 24 Pitt 4 p.m.
Sat. 2 Louisville City FC 1 p.m.