A few weeks ago the Pittsburgh Riverhounds released defender Isaiah Schafer, who played two games.. Last week, the Hounds released Karsten Smith.
Both players have already signed — and have been playing with different teams.
Schafer was signed by Tulsa Roughnecks — and played so well in helping anchor Tulsa’s back line — that he earned USL Player of the Week honors after a 2-0 win over St. Louis on Saturday.
After being released by Pittsburgh on Thursday night — during the delayed Richmond game, Smith started on Saturday with his new team, FC Edmonton of NASL.
The nature of second or third division pro soccer usually dictates that constant roster flux and changes are common throughout a season.
That is a given.
It’s a reality of life for the players at this level to have to move around, sometimes in the same season in order to keep pursuing a career in the cut-throat world of pro sports. .
Here in Pittsburgh this year we’ve seen more player changes than usual.
The Riverhounds are struggling through a 2-11-4 campaign which has also included coaching change from USL Hall of Famer Mark Steffens to long-time college coach Dave Brandt in May.
Since the Hounds season kicked off in early April, they’ve already released six players from contacts and five new players have been added.
Players Released: James Bissue, Ryan Dodson, Romeo Parkes, Caleb Postlewait, Isaiah Schafer and Karsten Smith.
Players Added: Alejandro Aguilar, Ryan Adeleye, Danny Earls, Jack Thompson, Nick Thompson
By comparison, in 2015, the Hounds added two players after the season began: Serbian Boris Zivanovic and Ben Newnam. Newnam was added later in the season to shore up the team’s midfield/defense as they made a playoff push.
In addition to signings — players will occasionally come through on short term loans.
Rob Vincent returned to the Hounds earlier this year on a one-game loan from DC United.
In 2015 Matt Lampson was loaned from Columbus Crew — playing in one game in goal due to absence/injury to keepers Ryan Thompson and Calle Brown.
Of course, the Hounds have an affiliate agreement with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew — who currently have Ben Swanson and Marshall Hollingsworth on the roster. But those are long term, and season-long loans — as they’ve trained and been available most games. In 2014, when the Hounds had an affiliate partnership with Houston Dynamo, two players, Anthony Arena and Mike Lisch, played most of the season in Pittsburgh, while a few others (Jason Johnson and Brian Ownby) only played a handful of games.
I am not sure if there’s a coincidence or not, but the Hounds in 2015 didn’t have an affiliate partnership with an MLS team, and had considerably less turnover (and more success, making the playoffs).
That season, Hounds management under the direction of team President Richard Nightingale and, at the time, new coach Steffens, made it clear they wanted to operate without an affiliation.
Steffens often spoke about the importance of team chemistry — and how frustrating it was early this season that his squad wasn’t clicking like he had hoped they would. But he was adapting to the loss of Vincent, the team’s leading scorer in 2015, and the addition of a lot of new players.
Making things worse, the Hounds had to deal with ramifications of losing their top scorer, Parkes (five goals) after six games due to his red-card/meltdown/kicking of NY Red Bulls Karl Oiumette.
Outside of the swift and necessary termination of Parkes’ contract, all of the other players being released were essentially guys who had limited chances and didn’t see a lot playing time with the Hounds – particularly after Brandt took over for Steffens.
Having a lot of roster turnover makes it difficult for any team to develop all the things (‘absolute unity and humility’ and ‘brotherhood’) that Brandt spoke about in his post game remarks after a 2-1 loss to Harrisburg.
For the team’s fans, they don’t know who will be on the field on any given game night.
Ultimately, any good pro soccer team needs to have a strong focus and foresight — and expertise when making every personnel decision.
Even at the second and third division level of pro soccer– most every team should have a staff person solely dedicated to handling personnel decisions whether it be a President, Personnel Director or General Manager.
After Nightingale left his post in the off-season as team president, team owner Tuffy Shallenberger has assumed responsibilities as “Acting President”and has authorized all personnel decisions without a president, personnel director or general manager in place.
While Shallenberger should be applauded for doing everything he can to keep the Riverhounds organization afloat financially, not having someone with the expertise and experience in running a pro soccer team has clearly left personnel decisions on his lap — along with input from a coach that’s never coached at the professional level.
Right now, the difference between Pittsburgh Riverhounds — and the other longer standing USL franchises such as Rochester, Richmond, Charleston and even Harrisburg — is that each of those franchises have stability in front office and coaching staff.
Each of those franchises has its own challenges, but all have had been successful and/or played in USL finals in the past five to six years maintaining as much continuity with their rosters as possible at this level.
Coaches like Bob Lilley (Rochester) and Leigh Cowlishaw (Richmond) have built teams in their image — have established an identity in terms of style of play, what type of players they want — and how to go about being successful.
And most of those coaches are very involved and handle making a lot of the team’s personnel decisions.
In Pittsburgh, we’ve now had four coaches in the past three seasons.
With that in mind, if Brandt is the guy for the long haul, he is getting baptized by fire in getting a crash course in the business side of soccer and making personnel decisions.
From my view — he’s going to need all the help he can get.
And with a season mostly lost and a roster with Kevin Kerr and Mike Green as the only players with the team since Highmark Stadium opened in 2013 and Hunter Gilstrap and Danny Earls as two additional holdovers from 2014 — it might be safe to say that this team is in rebuilding mode.
And in rebuilding — they can form an identity who they are on the field, how they want to play and hopefully sustain long-term success.
Shallenberger is a successful businessman who knows something or two about rebuilding and taking a company to new heights. After all, he built his family’s swimming pool company into a modest construction empire.
And I am sure he knows that any good rebuild starts with having a solid foundation.
Having a General Manager or Personnel Director would be a good start.