It was media day at Highmark Stadium on Thursday for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, just two days prior to the Opening game against the USL champions, Rochester Rhinos.
The one common theme seemed to be that both players and coaches are eager to get the season started.
HEAD COACH MARK STEFFENS
(Coach Steffens resume: New York Arrows, New York Express 1984-87 (MISL); Charlotte Eagles 1997-2014 (USL), Member of USL Hall of Fame, Two USL Championships (2000, 2005), Two-time USL Coach of Year (2004, 2008), Riverhounds 2015-present – Record )
On expectations for this year, and where the Riverhounds franchise is in his second year…
“I told our guys, our goal is to get a home playoff game.”
“Do I tell the guys we are going to win a championship?”
“No,” said Steffens.
“It’s not unrealistic that we can win it, but to tell the guys we are going to is throwing out false promises. Do we have the quality to get on a roll? If our chemistry builds — yes — we can win this league,” added Steffens.
“That’s the way we feel this year.
“Last year, we didn’t know what to expect. To be honest with you.”
“Are there a number of players not playing to their capability to this point? Yes. But if this this team gels like we think they can, we will be very, very hard to beat. I am feeling pretty confident we will get there. When you build a team. I know that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of communication. We’ve been doing that. The last two weeks we’ve really come together. (Last week in scrimmage) against Columbus Crew, we lost 2-0. Defended extremely well. Couple little mistakes. Competed really well.”
“I believe we are ready to start the season
“The key is to get guys on same page. It doesn’t mean you have to have the top 11 players in the lineup all the time. What you have to have is the players that are firing on all cylinders – playing together and for each other.”
“Part of this league is work-rate. Everyone has technical ability now. This league has gotten so good. Every player that comes in is going to be pretty technical player. Hopefully tactically they understand the game really well. But if can you get them to outwork the other team. Then you get the team so coordinated and so together that they are going to out-possess the other team. That’s where we want to be,” added Steffens.
“We’re ready to get this thing rolling like yesterday.”
On the team’s health, depth and what the line-up might look like going into the opener — along with a gem of a quote at the end about substitutions and how important they will be…
“We’re all pretty much healthy, but some guys might still not be up to playing 90 minutes. There’s a lot that goes into figuring out who will be in the lineup, but we kind of have an idea. I think we competed with (Rochester) really well last year. If it weren’t for a call here or there, we matched up really well. We didn’t get blown out,” said Steffens.
“We made a lot of changes. Bettered our team. Have lot more depth. It’s exciting. We can look down the bench and see that we have 3, 4, 6 maybe 7 guys that can step in a give us a spark.”
“Early in the season guys are not match fit like normal so we’ll need to make more changes than normal. It’s important that guys come off the bench for us. We’re not subbing because we’re nice guys,” quipped Steffens.
“We’re subbing because we’ll need to win games for us. We have players that can do that for us this year.”
On the team’s line-up and system/style of play that we should expect as it sounds like Steffens will be flexible and like most good coaches will adapt tactically with each situation during the course of the season…
“We changed some things. And we’ll go in and out of a few things to hopefully confuse some of the teams we play.”
“We’ll likely defend in one system. Attack in another.
“Depending on the score, the time of the game. It’s really hard to say what kind of system we’ll be play. It depends on what’s going on in the game.”
“Typically we’ll be in a 4-3-3 for a good part of the game,” stated Steffens.
When asked about what the line-up might look like, he spoke a little about one new player, Columbus Crew draft pick Marshall Hollingsworth as someone who will be in the left midfield spot that Rob Vincent occupied last season.
But he also added that he’s really satisfied with the team’s depth and competition for spots. And also eluded that while the team did struggle for stretches of the preseason, that the last two weeks have been excellent, and the team is ready to go.
“Have a lot of guys that are fighting for that little edge. Which is great for us. They’re pushing each other. Lot of quality on this team right now.”
“Any apprehension we might have was gone about two weeks ago. Now we’ve solidified positions. Our shape in the back. Things are coming together. We feel pretty confident that things are coming together. ”
“I believe we are more solid in the back than we were last year.”
“We have more depth than last year. If there’s injuries. Feel more comfortable with who can put out there.”
“Last year we wanted to score by committee, but we primarily had great seasons from Robbie, Kevin and Lebo – and not as much beyond them.”
“This year, I believe we can do, and hope we can do this year. If you have one or two guys, it makes it easier for the defenses to shut you down.”
“Case in point, after Robbie (Vincent) had 16-17 goals, they were doubling him. That made it harder for us to score. We want to be able to have a lot of options to score this year.”
On Kevin Kerr becoming the team captain…
“It was a no-brainer. Certainly a carry over from last year.”
“In some ways, it hasn’t changed that much. Kevin knows this year he needs to be leader of this group. Not only as a vocal leader, but in his example and training as hard as he can every day. He’s a very, very good leader so it was kind of an easy decision on our coaching staff.”
“We want him to be a little bit more vocal. Even though he was an excellent leader last year,” said Steffens.
I’ll be following up this post, with another including comments in my next entry from players including Kevin Kerr, who will wear the captain’s armband, goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, forward Corey Hertzog and defender Willie Hunt as they head into the new season.