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Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley keeping players ‘clear-headed’ ahead of USL Championship kickoff

Photo courtesy Mark Goodman

Pittsburgh Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley is keen to make sure that the players have the right mindset as the 2024 USL Championship regular season gets underway. 

The preseason is over, and now all eyes turn to the regular season as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds begin the defense of their 2023 Player’s Shield with a trip out west as they take on New Mexico United, a team whom they beat 2-1 in their only encounter last season, on Saturday afternoon at Isotopes Park.  

The Riverhounds come into the regular season on the back of a productive but unspectacular preseason campaign, posting wins over fellow USL Championship sides Loudon United and Louisville City as well as Pitt, a draw with Indy Eleven and a defeat to West Virginia as head coach Bob Lilley and the team worked through different formations and personnel groupings ready for the regular season. 

But one thing that you can be sure of, is that the players have already got their minds in the right place as the competitive games come into focus. Speaking exclusively to Pittsburgh Soccer Now after their Thursday training session, Lilley divulged how he tries to ensure that the players don’t take their foot off the gas and have to ‘flip a switch’ now that the games matter: 

“I mean for me, I try to get them all through preseason to work like you’re going somewhere and you have things to do, so we want to be working hard, we don’t want to be flipping the switch now because it’s the regular season. So I think they’ve been working hard, I think they know the real thing is are coming. There’s a certain level of excitement in the group, but we’ve got to be clear-headed enough and composed enough to make good decisions. We’re not gonna go to New Mexico and win just with effort”

But just who will be the team that heads to New Mexico? Lilley has spoken before about the challenges of finding a ‘first team’, telling Pittsburgh Soccer Now back in February that it’s possible that “we won’t even know who our best 11 is after 10 games”, and it seems as though that mantra is still holding true with the regular season just days away, as he explained that the players he was working with on the field shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the first eleven moving forward: 

“We’ve got to pick someone for the first game, but I think we have more than 11 guys that can start here. So I couldn’t tell you what our 11 is going to be in the middle of the season or at the end of the season, it’ll all depend on guys and the improvements in their form. We’ll end up rotating to see what guys can do, build depth and build trust. If you don’t play anyone or you don’t trust any other players to start then when you have injuries, you’re not going to have anyone ready to start. 

“But look we’ve got some experienced guys, we have guys that were here last year and I think this starting lineup will reflect that. There’s some some new guys and younger guys that are going to be in that lineup and you know, they’ll hopefully be able to handle it. But we got a lot of guys waiting in the wings that are going to want their chances. 

“So we’ll see each week how guys are training and what they’re doing in their positions and we’ll make those calls as we go forward.”

Whatever players do end up playing in the coming weeks though, they are only going to be from the players who are already on the roster or who are still waiting for various bits of paperwork to be signed off, with Lilley explaining that the team aren’t in the process of actively looking for any additions as the regular season begins, but that they might need to look into it as the season progresses and various issues flair up: 

“You could see something in mid-season or later but right now there are no deals coming up. We’re focused on this group right now and we are happy with the group we have right now.”

Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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