With a slew of signing announcements over the past few weeks, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ roster is starting to take shape for the 2017 season — maybe even sooner than many of us expected.
New signings include the return of the team’s leading goal scorer, Corey Hertzog, along with an intriguing scoring threat, Devaughn Elliott, a pair of former 1st Round MSL SuperDraft picks in Bryan Arguez and Taylor Washington, and the return of players like Ryan Adeleye, Danny Earls, Jack Thompson and Nick Thompson, along with two players that were under contact when the 2016 season ended, Kevin Kerr and Chevaughn Walsh.
“This group of players is an important part of the team,” said head coach Dave Brandt, after the announcement of the return of Adeleye, Earls and the Thompson brothers.
“Jack is still one of the younger guys at 24, and I still think has best soccer ahead of him. Guys like Ryan and Danny have a depth of experience at multiple levels, while Nick does too, in both playing and in the coaching realm. Each one of these players, from a competitive standpoint, from an experience standpoint, will help the club in growing and achieving what we’re trying to do moving forward in 2017.”
Signings continued into this week as the Hounds brought in 2016 Philadelphia Union 1st Round SuperDraft pick Washington.
Still, there are gaps and it would seem that the Hounds will try to upgrade with quality players — and a few questions remain including — will there continue to be an affiliation with MLS’ Columbus Crew and how many more players from last year’s team will return?
For now, with a lot of new faces that will be coming into the mix, let’s take a look at how the roster shapes up.
LEADERSHIP AND TEAM CHEMISTRY
The Hounds will lean on midfielders Kerr and Earls, along with forward Hertzog to be the leaders. Kerr has been with the team since 2013, and is the longest tenured Hounds, while Earls came to Pittsburgh in 2014.
Although the Hounds have brought back a number of players, only two thus far were on the roster at the start of the 2016 season, Kerr and Hertzog. Earls didn’t rejoin the team until late June, but for the good part of the previous two seasons, he served as team captain.
The Thompson brothers, former NCAA Division III soccer power Messiah College standouts, are very familiar with Hounds Head Coach Dave Brandt (a former Messiah and Navy coach). This will be Brandt’s first full season as a pro coach, and having players buy-in to what he’s implementing will be important, as he will rely on the aforementioned players to help lead by example and help with the transition to Pittsburgh.
Signing so many players early in the process could very well help with overall team chemistry, but it remains to be seen if this group will blend together well.
It was clear last season that Brandt struggled with implementing his own system, and even at times reverted back to similar formations that were used under former coach Mark Steffens as the season went along that suited the players he inherited.
Steffens, a USL Hall of Fame coach, during his tenure in Pittsburgh talked about the importance of team chemistry, and after a successful 2015 campaign, the 2016 team never quite found the same bond as a unit.
While the Hounds continue to operate without any assigned scouting or player procurement staff (team owner Tuffy Shallenberger still serves as team’s ‘interim president’ as no general manager or director of player personnel has been hired), it appears that it is Brandt and his coaching staff that have had the task of putting all the pieces together.
Here’s what’s they’ve done so far…
It seems as if there’s a bit of pipeline brewing between the Riverhounds organization and with players from Caribbean countries — as multiple players from the same agency, Pan American Calcio, have signed to play in Pittsburgh in each of the past two years.
This year’s Caribbean crop — all represented by Pan American Calcio — includes Kenroy Howell (Jamaica), Jamal Jack (Trinidad & Tobago) and Devaughn Elliott (St. Kitts & Nevis). Last year, Mauricio Vargas, Romeo Parkes and James Bissue came by way of this agency.
So, while the Hounds don’t have a GM, they are using this agency to help find players in Central America and other places.
Elliott has most recently played in the second division of Mexican Soccer, for Murciélagos Fútbol Club, but spent more time with their “B” team (15 games vs 7 games with top team), while Howell, played for C.D. Dragón of the Primera División in El Salvador, and is the only new player to come by way of a transfer agreement — this one between the Hounds and his most recent team Waterhouse FC of the Jamaican National Premier League.
Jack, who is listed as a defender, has played mostly in the TT Pro League of his native Trinidad and Tobago, where he has played for four different clubs. Jack has also registered two caps with his country’s national team.
MIX OF YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
In November, the Hounds also added Keasel Broome, a goalkeeper who played for Harrisburg last season after signing his first pro contract with NY Cosmos).
In addition to Broome, they’ve also signed some recent college players to contracts after going through trial: Kay Banjo, Shane Campbell, Ritchie Duffie and John Manga.
Despite bringing in some of these younger players, Brandt (with green light from owner Shallenberger) has seemed to be willing to sign more players in the 25 to 29-year old range, who have already played their share of professional soccer.
One of the more fascinating signings has been Arguez, 27.
Arguez has represented the United States national team at all youth levels including the Olympic team. Arguez, is a well-traveled central midfielder, with sporadic appearances over the years who played in Germany (Hertha BSC), and was DC United’s top pick in MLS SuperDraft in 2008. He recently made his way back into the NASL last season with both Miami FC and Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, where he made 14 appearances. His only other season with more appearances was also in Ft. Lauderdale when he made 19 appearances. He’s scored only two goals in his career.
COLUMBUS CREW AFFILIATION STILL IN PLAY
Don’t forget that while nothing formal has been announced, all signs are pointing to the Hounds affiliating with MLS Columbus Crew again in 2017 as the Crew have no immediate plans to field its own USL team, like some other MLS teams have done.
The Crew would seem to welcome having the same affiliate partner for a second consecutive year, especially after seeing its two previous partners Dayton Dutch Lions (2014) and Austin Aztex (2015) leave the USL.
While the Hounds did struggle with results in 2016, players that came on loan from Columbus were mostly solid contributors, and most importantly, remained with Pittsburgh for much of the season.
Brandt and the Hounds would probably be fine with having a small, core group of Crew loaned players that will contribute to the 2017 team and provide quality and valuable depth to the roster.
COMPETITION FOR PLAYING TIME / WHAT KIND OF TACTICS WILL THEY EMPLOY
The good thing about having a lot of new players, is that they should be hungry, and eager to prove themselves at this level as the competition should be steep to get on game day rosters and into the starting eleven.
As Brandt has shown, he has a pretty intense and detail-oriented approach to training, and through this process, each player will have to battle to earn playing time.
Brandt talked a lot when he first came on board about being a high pressing team — that will play that way for 90+ minutes each game. With USL switching to just three substitution rule in 2017, he will have to make sure his team’s conditioning is in peak form. It also appears that he likes bigger defenders, and he likes to have size near the top of the attack. What this could mean is probably more formations that include two or three forwards (4-4-2, 4-3-3).
NO WAITING FOR USL/NASL STATUS ANNOUNCEMENT FROM US SOCCER
The Riverhounds play in the United Soccer League (USL), which has applied for Division II status in the U.S. professional soccer pyramid, as the current second division NASL faces uncertainty in light of teams folding and others leaving for USL.
United States Soccer Federation originally intended to make an announcement at its board meetings in early December, but due to the current status of NASL, have postponed any announcements, until what likely appears to be early January.
While the Hounds are a part of a strong, forging USL, that had 31 teams prior to the meetings, they are preparing the roster for competition regardless of league status.
POSITION-BY-POSITION LOOK AT 2017 RIVERHOUNDS PLAYERS (as of 12/21/2016)
Keasel Broome (Harrisburg City Islanders – USL, 25)
Broome played twice against Pittsburgh last season with the Harrisburg City Islanders, helping the Hounds cross-state rivals take the second edition of the Keystone Derby Cup. As previously mentioned, the former Providence keeper was signed by the NY Cosmos, but didn’t appear in a games in 2015.
Ryan Adeleye (Riverhounds, 29)
Brandt will likely be utilizing Adeleye as a center back. After ten games with the Hounds in 2016, he provided mixed results, but with a chance to play a full season and train with the team from the beginning, he can become a more consistent player on the back line.
If you need some evidence that Adeleye is already working toward 2017, here you go…
Shane Campbell (Harrisburg City Islanders, 22)
A young defender that played in eight games with Harrisburg in 2016, and will try to compete for a position in the line-up.
Jamal Jack (Club Deportivo Dragón, El Salvador, 29)
A veteran, big bodied defender that can provide depth on the back line and find have possible role at center back. Some of his highlights indicate that he has also played in midfield and some forward.
Taylor Washington (Philadelphia Union – MLS / Bethlehem Steel FC – USL, 23)
Philadelphia Union 1st round SuperDraft pick in 2016 started 28 of 30 games for Bethlehem Steel FC in 2016 at left back, and was among the league leaders in minutes played. The Union opted not to bring him back in 2017.
Bryan Arguez (Ft. Lauderdale Strikers – NASL, 27)
Natural center/defensive midfielder. He got back into action last season, with 14 appearances for the Strikers, and the Hounds are hoping that he can keep his career resurgence going strong.
Ritchie Duffie (Virginia Commonwealth University, 24)
Former VCU standout, playing in his first pro contract, Duffie could be a midfielder or provide depth to the back line as well.
Danny Earls (Riverhounds, 27)
A former MLS player, and veteran of many USL battles, Earls seems to have found a home in Pittsburgh. The Irish native has scored four goals in 65 club appearances.
Last season ended prematurely for Earls, after the Irishman was sent off in the final Harrisburg game for a hard challenge, and an ensuing scuffle which he also pushed an official. He will begin the season serving the last part of a seven-game suspension handed down from the USL for that incident.
Kevin Kerr (Riverhounds, 27)
Team captain in 2016, will be looking to continue to provide tireless work-rate and can move around to play defensive midfield, or on the flanks in an attacking role, where he excelled to the tune of nine goals and 10 assists in 2015.
Jack Thompson (Riverhounds, 24)
After playing his first pro season in Charlotte for the Independence in their inaugural season in 2015, Thompson played in a variety of spots last season for the Hounds when he was added to the roster in June. He will likely be a player that Brandt will keep finding a way to plug into the line-up.
Nick Thompson (Riverhounds, 28)
Of the Thompson brothers, he’s the bigger one, both in size, and in age. Until last season, when Brandt brought him in to Pittsburgh, Thompson hadn’t played pro soccer since 2011, when he was a member of the Carolina Railhawks (now North Carolina FC). He scored twice for the Hounds last year when he was used mostly in a late substitution role as a back-to-goal, hold-up striker, but was also used in the central midfield a few times as well.
Kay Banjo (Vancouver Whitecaps, 24)
The Hounds have already brought in a number of forwards with some scoring pedigree. Banjo was a second round MLS SuperDraft pick of the Vancouver Whitecaps, but never saw the field for the Whitecaps.
Devaughn Elliott (Murcielagos, Mexico, 25)
Labeled as a second striker — could also play in an attacking midfield role or on the outside of the attack as well.
Corey Hertzog (Riverhounds, 25)
Hertzog is a proven commodity at this level, and the Hounds decided after a productive first-season, the 26-year old Reading, PA native, would be an important piece to bring back as they look to turn things around in 2017.
Kenroy Howell (C.D. Dragon, 23)
In addition to Jack, Howell also played with Club Deportivo Dragón, and made 16 appearances in total for the club, most notably netted his first goal in a close 2-1 defeat against the Portland Timbers at the CONCACAF Champions League in August.
John Manga (University of Cincinnati, 22)
Former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Manga had a standout career at the University of Cincinnati, where he scored 16 goals and had five assists in 41 starts.
Chevaughn Walsh (Riverhounds, 21)
Walsh was the Premier Development League (PDL) MVP in 2016, and was signed by the Hounds in early August. He played in six games, scoring once against Orlando City B.