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Goalkeeper competition gets underway with new trio as preseason kicks off

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Eric Dick, Jacob Randolph, and trialist Gabriel Perrotta compete and support each other as Hounds kick off 2024 preseason

As the Riverhounds kicked off their 2024 preseason campaign on Tuesday afternoon at Highmark Stadium, one of the biggest questions of camp surrounds the starting goalkeeper role with a trio of new faces vying – and supporting one another – for the opening day spot.

In an ultimately scoreless scrimmage against Indy Eleven on Wednesday, the first week-plus of preseason wrapped up with a first look at two of the options at head coach Bob Lilley’s disposal. MLS and USL veteran Eric Dick, most recently with Minnesota United and Minnesota United 2, took the opening 45 minutes between the posts while trialist Gabriel Perrotta, fresh off his senior season at Marshall University, manned the net in the second half. Jacob Randolph, another first-year pro out of UNC-Wilmington, didn’t see the field, but will certainly get ample time this preseason to show his quality – with the Hounds next set to take the field this Friday at Loudoun United.

After a first half that saw him largely deal with routine touches and relatively few threats from the Eleven attack, Dick spoke on his first week experience in Hounds camp and with coach Lilley.

“It’s been awesome. It’s such a long season and we’re all amped to get the first 90 minutes under our belts,” said Dick. “It’s been a fun first week, getting our legs back from the offseason. Bob’s got us learning the system and getting prepared in our role on the team. It’s good that we’ve got another game coming up in a couple of days, so we’ll look at this and just try to make every single game a little bit better than the last.”

A veteran himself, with stints in MLS at Sporting Kansas City, Columbus Crew, and Minnesota United, as well as time in USL with Swope Park, Tulsa Roughnecks (now FC Tulsa), Phoenix Rising, and Indy Eleven, the 29-year-old Butler University product knows the value of learning from those who have been around longer on his new team.

“During practice, after practice, they’re always open for questions. Me being new, I want to make sure I’m learning the system well and all these new guys as well,” Dick explained. “It’s important, we all have to be on the same page. We’ve got to be ready in game situations, so if someone makes a mistake, someone is right there to pick them up and have each others’ backs.”

Last week, team veterans Robbie Mertz and Danny Griffin spoke on the role they and other long-time Hounds players take in guiding their new teammates in camp and helping them adjust to a new environment – a role that Dick is very appreciative of from his new teammates.

“They’re great, all the veteran guys know what they’re doing and them taking time out of their day to help everybody else – we’re all just trying to get on the same page and that’s what preseason is all about. We’re going to make mistakes but can we learn from them and, as a group, just gel every day we’re out there.”

Having experienced multiple different coaches and systems during his time as a professional, Dick mentioned how the internal familiarity with Lilley’s system – now entering its seventh season in Pittsburgh – has aided him in picking up his role and responsibilities quickly.

“It’s very, very broken down. It’s very clear what each player is supposed to do within the system and we just harp on that over and over again until it’s second nature,” he said. “I think that’s very important and comes into play as the season goes on. As long as we know our roles, it’s going to make it harder for other teams to beat us. So he has his system, and we’re just harping on it every single day until it sticks.”

With the departure of two-year veteran goalkeeper Jahmali Waite, as well as fellow keepers Christian Garner, Jonathan Gomes, and short-term loanee Luis Zamudio, the goalkeeper room is certainly the most turned-over group on this Hounds roster in 2024. Without an incumbent veteran, the trio of newcomers have relied on one another – as well as one of the best MLS goalkeepers and now goalkeeping coach at the Hounds, Jon Busch – both pushing and supporting one another to raise their quality and ensure whoever wins the starting job is as prepared as they can be.

“I’ve had the pleasure of having a lot of good goalkeeper groups in my career and this is no exception. Jacob is great and Gabi is great, and Jon obviously is Jon Busch – who wouldn’t want to be working with him? It’s an honor every day to go out to the field and have that amount of experience available,” Dick enthused. “We’re all pushing each other and whoever gets the starting spot, we’re all going to be supportive of them. We’ve got three great goalkeepers with us and we know what we need to do to help the team and we’re going to do that every single day in practice, every single day on the field. So we’re pushing each other, and that’s what you’re supposed to do out of a goalkeeper group, and we’re learning a lot- it’s great.”

With the next preseason game for the Hounds just a few days away, and three more on the schedule afterwards, we’ll certainly see each member of the goalkeeper room get ample time to show their stuff. While the starter for March 9th remains up in the air, what’s certain is that this unified group is all-in on boosting each other up through competition and providing a strong showing in net for the Hounds in 2024.

Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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