While the Pittsburgh Riverhounds already played a pair of preseason matches last weekend in North Carolina, for many of us here in Pittsburgh, Saturday’s scrimmage against University of Akron was our first look at the team that Head Coach Dave Brandt has been assembling and working with in preparation for the 2017 season which officially kicks off on Saturday, March 25 against the defending USL champions, New York Red Bulls II.
After a first half which the home pro side dominated possession against their college opponent, but didn’t score, Pittsburgh then turned things up a notch in the second half, rolling to a 3-0 win as the team’s returning leading scorer Corey Hetzog assisted on a Marshall Hollingsworth finish from the left side.
Then Hertzog scored twice himself — redirecting a Key Banjo ball that came into the box. He capped the scoring with a penalty after trialist Dan Bedoya drew a foul in the box.
With the positive result, the Hounds are now 2-0-1, having outscored its opponents 6-1 in three preseason games.
In addition, I’m excited and pleased to share a new Pittsburgh Soccer Report feature — a video recap of yesterday’s action and our interviews with Brandt along with returning veterans Kevin Kerr and Mike Green — thanks mostly to Nick Milliron‘s outstanding video work. Although this is our first preseason “test” run-through — we are looking forward to tweaking things and providing more videos throughout the course of the 2017 season.
After the game, when I caught up with a few veteran, returning players they were really pleased with the team’s energy, focus and intensity in what has been a seven-week preseason to this point.
And from my perspective, this looks like a pretty determined bunch who’ve been working hard since the team started way ahead of many teams in USL. Earlier in the season newcomer goalkeeper Trey Mitchell may have said it best when he made the observation that he felt like the returning players had a “chip on their shoulders” after last season.
It appears that the veterans are going to be leading the way this season to ensure that, if anything, this team will leave it all out on the field.
“It’s been a process, but we’re coming along pretty good. I think we were a little ‘iffy’ about the (long) preseason at first,” said Mike Green, the longest tenured Riverhound, who is returning for his sixth season in Pittsburgh
“But we needed it. It’s been a lot of hard work, but the guys are coming together. And today we made a statement,” said Green.
When Green re-signed his contract to return to the team in the off season, he was challenged by coach Brandt to take his game to another level — and discovered that he needed to be more committed and focused.
“Sometimes I have a tendency to take a laid back approach, and he challenged me to become a better player, and to be more focused on details. It’s really helped.”
“Coach has helped us stay focus, throughout every practice and every game — but it’s not entirely on him. It’s on all of us too,” added Green.
Veterans like Kerr, last year’s team captain feel that the team’s intensity in every practice and attention to detail demanded from their coach has been paying dividends.
“Sometimes in past we’ve not taken care of business against college teams, but that has not been the case this year,” said Kerr, who is also returning for his fifth year with the Hounds.
“He’s (Brandt) come in flying. He’s demanding a lot from this team, but it seems to be working well, so hopefully it continues.”
Brandt knows that there’s still a lot of work to do.
“We know what we’re trying to do and we know where we want to be. I don’t think we’re there yet, but there’s a sense of what we want. We’re in the process of getting there.”
Despite having a roster that has a lot of new faces, Brandt has built his team around a core group of players back from last year’s team, including Kerr, Green, Hertzog along with Steven Okai, Jack and Nick Thompson, Ryan Adeleye and when he returns from suspension, Danny Earls.
“Guys we kept from last year’s team, we kept for a reason,” said Brandt, after acknowledging that the team’s six goals have come from returning players.
“I expect that sort of thing and a lot of other things from them.”
The first two preseason matches last weekend saw Green score after a nice pass from Banjo at NASL side North Carolina FC, then on Sunday against Duke, Kerr and Okai scored.
After the match ended, many of the players, most who only got 45 minutes of action, were still on the field getting in conditioning work.
“There’s an intensity that I want. I think there’s two ways to react to that. Once is take it easy. It’s a long season. Lets not get too intense and not ask too much of ourselves. And I disagree,” said Brandt.
“We have to get that intensity and focus and maintain it to be a really good team.”
There’s still a long way to go, and the Riverhounds will have a tough early season schedule to boot, but if the early part of the preseason is any indication, they will be coming out flying just like their coach.
99th MINUTE (POST-MATCH NOTES)
- Brandt mentioned that they are down to two trialists (Rich Balchan and Dan Bedoya). Balchan, 28, who played for Ottawa Fury and has played in MLS with Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake in the past, started at right back and had a decent shot attempt in the box that was saved by Akron goalkeeper. Bedoya, former NY Red Bulls II product, looked strong on the ball in an attacking midfield role and drew the penalty that set up Hertzog’s second goal on the penalty.
- Saturday saw the return of two Columbus Crew loaned players who were also here in 2016 – Marshall Hollingsworth and Ben Swanson. Both played well, as Hollingsworth scored the first goal and was his usual typical, active self on the flank while Swanson seemed more and more comfortable on the field with the Hounds than he did a year ago at this time. Neither are officially on the Hounds roster yet, pending loan approval/paperwork from the USL/MLS. Brandt indicated that we may also see additional Crew loans in the coming weeks.
- As the case with most preseason games, the Hounds went with two entirely different groups in each half. Brandt indicated that he was hoping to get more players longer time on the field but with postponement of the Duquesne scrimmage, he will have to wait until next week to start adding more minutes for players he would like to see play more.
- The Duquense scrimmage has been moved back to March 19 at Highmark Stadium, as apparently the Dukes are not fully ready to go as some players are nursing some minor injuries.
Line-Ups vs Akron:
First Half – Trey Mitchell GK – Rich Balchan (Shane Campbell), Tobi Adewole, Nick Thompson, Taylor Washington – Ben Fitzpatrick, Stephen Okai, Mike Green, Kenroy Howell – John Manga (Chevaughn Walsh), Kevin Kerr
Second Half – Keasel Broome – Ritchie Duffie, Jamal Jack, Ryan Adeleye (Shane Campbell), Jack Thompson – Marshall Hollingsworth, Ben Swanson, Victor Souto, Dan Bedoya – Kay Banjo, Corey Hertzog
The Riverhounds will return to action next week, taking on Jay Vidovich’s University of Pittsburgh Men’s team on Saturday, March 5 at Ambrose Urbanic Field in Oakland, then return to Highmark Stadium to take on the University of Charleston the next day.