The Riverhounds pounced quickly to lock up a college player Bob Lilley believes has a bright future.
Anthony Velarde, a native of Reedley in Central California, signed a one-year deal the team announced Monday to become the first first-year pro to join Lilley's roster for 2019. The deal includes a club option for 2020.
Velarde was a Division II All-American for Fresno Pacific, located just 30 minutes from his hometown, where he led the Sunbirds to a 14-3-1 record and an NCAA Tournament berth in his senior season. The dynamic, 5-foot-7 playmaker wore the No. 10 shirt for the Sunbirds and lived up to the jersey, scoring 14 goals and dishing out 20 assists as a senior, finishing his career with a PacWest Conference record 44 assists.
“Anthony is a very gifted technical player who also brings creativity and sophistication in attacking areas,” Lilley said in a team release. “We feel he can bring goals and assists and are excited to help him make the jump from the college to the professional game.”
Velarde came to one of the Hounds' closed tryouts in December and impressed the staff enough to earn a deal, rather than just an invitation to attend camp on trial. Lilley admitted he wanted to get the deal done quickly to make sure he had the player locked up before any of the Western Conference USL teams, including nearby Fresno FC, moved in to start a potential bidding war.
For the first-year pro, moving to Pittsburgh will be a big leap. It will be his first time calling somewhere outside of California home, but at least he can look at the example of teammate Thomas Vancaeyezeele, who last year made the same leap from Division II to major contributor for the Hounds.
"Coming from a small town and going across the country is a crazy experience that many people don't get to have, and I'm grateful to the club for believing in my ability. I had hoped that this could be a possibility, but I can't even put into my words what it means that it's now a reality," Velarde said in a Fresno Pacific release.
Velarde's signing gives the Hounds 13 players under contract for 2019 with still three weeks remaining before camp opens on Feb. 4.