ALLEGHENY HEALTH NETWORK

Season preview 2019: Hounds aiming higher still

pittsburgh-riverhounds-practice

The Riverhounds open their 2019 season on the road against the Tampa Bay Rowdies — and players and coaches alike have set the bar high.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds players practice in Coraopolis before their home opener vs. Tampa Bay - RIVERHOUNDS SC

The Riverhounds are back, and expectations are high as the franchise’s 20th season opens tonight, 7:30 p.m., in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

How high?

Well, higher than last year’s high. Put it that way.

After going 15-5-14 and placing third in the USL’s Eastern Conference in 2018, the team looked poised to make a deep playoff run — but that never materialized. Instead, the Hounds were bounced from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, dropping a long, tense penalty shootout before a capacity crowd at Highmark Stadium to cross-state rival Bethlehem Steel FC.

Despite that disappointment, the Hounds got a taste of winning — and winning consistently. The 15 wins were their most since joining USL in 2011, and now the team wants more.

I think we all realize if we want to achieve anything, it’s going to take a huge amount of work day in and day out,” midfielder and most-tenured captain Kevin Kerr was telling me this week. “That mentality from last year has carried through the preseason. We’re desperate to get off to a great start.” 

The sentiment was echoed strongly by Bob Lilley. 

“Last year was a great season for us,” the coach said. “I enjoyed the group we had. Obviously, we were disappointed in how it ended… Hopefully, it’s a reminder to all of us how special it is to win consistently.”

Racking up those consistent wins won’t be easy out the gates. The Hounds face four consecutive opponents away from home — including a much-anticipated rematch against Bethlehem FC on March 30. This run marks the longest opening-season road stretch in the organization’s history.

Does that bother Lilley?

Nah. Not really. He told me after practice in Coraopolis this week his squad is just as confident in their abilities on the road as they are at home:

Still, the players recognize they laid the foundation for something special in 2018, and now it’s their responsibility to keep the snowball rolling downhill. This road stretch can either take fans’ interest to a new level or it can cause them to tune out before the season really takes shape.

Last year was a massive year for the club,” Kerr told me. “There was probably more growth last year than any other year that I’ve been here… Now, it comes with a little bit of pressure.”

The Hounds played to a draw in both matchups vs. Tampa Bay last season, 2-2 and 1-1. The first of those, the match in St. Pete, was among their most electric of the summer.

• Four Hounds this season — Kerr, midfielder Kenardo Forbes and the two new forwards, Christian Volesky and forward Steevan Dos Santos, have at least 100 games played at the USL level.

• Dos Santos is listed at 6-4, 208, and he looked every bit of it on the practice field. The dude is a tank.

• With his next assist, Kerr will tie David Flavius for the most in Hounds history. Flavius was recently inducted into the Hounds Hall of Fame, so getting assist No. 25 would be monumental for Kerr.

• Can the streak continue? Goalkeeper Kyle Morton enters 2019 having never allowed a goal in his three starts with the Hounds.

• The Hounds are returning 50 percent of their full roster from 2018, 10 of the total 20, but that also includes eight of the projected 11 starters.

• The home opener, when it finally arrives, is April 13.

19 Comments

19
Join the discussion

5 Comment threads
14 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
13 Comment authors
pierre15208JARjrziskeyBubbaBanjoDejan Kovacevic Recent comment authors
  Follow Discussion  
Newest Oldest Most voted
Notify of:
pierre15208
pierre15208

Hopefully the Hounds can overcome the things that plagued them last season. More success converting on corner kicks, set pieces and penalty kicks. They have the defense and the midfield play, which contributed mightily to their success, but they didn’t score enough. Only a handful of games where they really dominated on offense. I think it would also help if they took more shots from outside the box. That would help keep other teams honest if we could counter their tendencies to pack the box with a bunch of players and wait for our forwards. I think the Hounds could finish second or third in the conference again this season. The East is tough with Louisville, Nashville, and the Hounds.

BubbaBanjo
BubbaBanjo

I really like the Hounds. It truly is a community sport. Look at the teams and fans in this league. Home town stuff. Hope they take another step forward this year.

Hunter do an article with more on who is gone…. who is new and the impact sometime. Maybe how the coach sees the team approach changing or being the same.

I can’t believe I am a soccer fan….. weird. 🙂 Maybe blame it on Jam Master RB and Ronald Ocean. Or that idiot Nutting. But this team looks fun… not a drama.

Willy Peppers
Willy Peppers

Good stuff Hunter. Glad to see you are prowling the Hounds beat. Hope to meet you at a few games this year.

JAR
JAR

Where is Matt Grubba? Thought he had the hounds?

PGHinDC
PGHinDC

I was wondering the same thing. If he’s out, I hope he lands somewhere good. I reallly enjoyed his writing and his insights on morning Java.

Tomhall15001
Tomhall15001

I asked this question about 3 weeks ago and DK’s response was that Matt covered the Hounds beat. I guess it’s Hunter now. Good work Hunter.

Dejan Kovacevic
Dejan Kovacevic

Tom: Matt let us know a couple weeks ago, so it definitely would have been after you asked.

superstein61
superstein61

Yep. When college coverage was cut, the word was no one was losing their job. But Grubbs has been missing in action for some time. Just more untruthful statements.

Jmk88
Jmk88

DK said that Grubba declined to cover the hounds this summer but will contribute when available.

Dejan Kovacevic
Dejan Kovacevic

This is accurate, JMK. Matt let Dale know about it a couple weeks ago.

Dejan Kovacevic
Dejan Kovacevic

We’ve mentioned a couple times — Dale did again today under Site Stuff — that Matt chose not to cover the Hounds this summer. He let Dale know a couple weeks ago. He’s still open to doing that down the road, or other stuff.

jrziskey
jrziskey

Hopefully he’ll stick around – I enjoyed his stuff.

JAR
JAR

Thanks for the update. I missed the other notes.

BigFiddy
BigFiddy

Pittsburgh has a soccer team? Yawn

threatlevelmidnight
threatlevelmidnight

You go to a post about a team/sport you don’t enjoy and post this. Yawn.

Woomer
Woomer

I think it’s a common problem here, Scott. I see it on a lot of Pirates posts too.

pierre15208
pierre15208

Yinzers gotta yinz…

BubbaBanjo
BubbaBanjo

When the Buccos succo later this summer check these guys out. It looks like a party at those games. Man I like a good time. Thats always a plus. Minor league B-ball livens up the experience and makes it fun. This team seems to do the same.

pierre15208
pierre15208

Especially if you sit with the Steel Army, they keep up the action all game long.