As the Pittsburgh Riverhounds kick off the 2017 campaign on Saturday evening at Highmark Stadium, I thought it would be fun to get an assessment from some of the local media and soccer writers that regularly follow the team of what their thoughts are on the season ahead.
Thanks to the following folks for providing input:
- Mike Sparks (Mon Goals / Beautiful Game Network)
- Ian Thomson (The Soccer Observer)
- Matt Welch (DK on Pittsburgh Sports)
- Rachael McKriger (
@PghSportingNews & @pitsportscastle)
- Matt Grubba (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
And addressing some of the biggest questions for the 2017 season:
- how many points will the Hounds reach this season and can they make the playoffs?
- who will be the team’s leading scorer?
- what new player are you most interested in seeing this year?
- who do you think will win the USL’s Eastern Conference? .
I’ve added my two cents at the bottom of each section as well.
HOW MANY POINTS WILL THE HOUNDS REACH THIS SEASON & WILL THEY MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
Mike Sparks, Mon Goals / Beautiful Game Network – 43 and barely, last team in.
Matt Grubba, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – Hounds go 12-13-7, make playoffs
Ian Thomson, The Soccer Observer – bottom third – The Steel Army won’t need reminding that it’s been 13 years and counting since the Hounds won a playoff game. I wouldn’t bet on that changing this season.
Thomson also added:
USL campaigns are inherently tough to predict given the tendency of short-term player contracts and hefty roster turnovers.
Yet a clear picture is emerging between three groups in the Eastern Conference – the Haves, the Have Nots and the Reserves. Charlotte, Cincinnati, Louisville, Ottawa, Saint Louis and Tampa Bay will be firmly focused on making the playoffs with Charleston, Richmond and Rochester from the league’s “Old Guard” fighting to keep up on reduced resources. Four MLS reserve teams will succeed or struggle based upon the larger needs of their franchises.
That leaves Pittsburgh and Harrisburg scrapping it out for the Keystone Cup.
Matt Welch: (DK on Pittsburgh Sports) – 50 points and a playoff berth, Record – 15-12-5
Rachel McKreiger: a total of 43 points and push for a playoff spot.
While they struggled big time against the Rochester Rhinos in the preseason, the team still has a lot of promise. A mixture of young with old, led under Dave Brandt, will need some time to adjust, and I believe that they can do it properly this season.
John Krysinsky (@pghsoccerscribe) – 39 points, more competitive than 2016, but just falling short of playoffs.
I will be taking a wait and see approach with this team.
There are just a lot of new players, a new coach who has only had a half season of coaching professional soccer — and while they have some solid returning veterans, they were still one of the lowest scoring outfits in the league a year ago. Do they have more dangerous scoring threats besides Hertzog, who is solid inside the box? Can they win with a reshuffled back line and new goalkeepers?
Having some continuity with having a decent core of returning players and from Columbus loanees who’ve already been here will help. Still, they must stay healthy and find ways to pick up points when schedule hits challenging stretches. Brandt is banking on being a counter-attacking team and this will take a lot of focus and discipline. Open up a bit too much or make mistakes, and against good teams it could be costly.
The season’s is really now a grind (unprecedented 32 games!) and depth will important, and while it appears they have depth now, this will put to the test when they get into the heart of the season. Don’t discount the health of it’s affilate partners, Columbus Crew, as that might dictate if/when some of the players on loan will be available.
this one was rather unanimous…
Sparks, Welch and Krysinsky: Hertzog
Thomson: Kerr and Hertzog
Brandt can also call upon two of the Hounds’ top four goalscorers in the post-NASL split era in captain Kevin Kerr and Corey Hertzog. Darren Amoo, remarkably, sits fifth on that list with eight goals. Kerr’s intelligence has been the standout feature of the team’s play in recent years while Hertzog’s sharpness around the penalty boxmakes him a constant threat.
McKriger: The team’s leading scorer, I predict, will be Hertzog, although Kay Banjo is giving him a run for his money.
Grubba: Hertzog is top goal scorer (I’ll say 17, including cup)
WHAT NEW PLAYER ARE YOU MOST INTERESTED IN SEEING THIS YEAR:
Sparks: Kay Banjo. Lots of buzz from his partnership with Hertzog in the preseason. It sounds like Kerr and Hertzog will be paired together up top to start the season, so I’m intrigued to see what Banjo does when he gets on the field.
Welch: former Philadelphia Union SuperDraft pick, Taylor Washington
Thomson: I’m interested to see how Banjo develops as a potential third striking option after netting his first Hounds goal in the preseason win at Pitt. The former University of Maryland-Baltimore County forward garnered attention after a highlight reel goal against Vermont during the 2014 college season. That was a fleeting moment. Banjo’s overall form that year helped the Retrievers to a first College Cup appearance although he has not played regularly since then.
McKriger: The player that I’m most interested to watch, are actually two players. I’m interested to watch Ryan Adeleye in the center back position, and Victor Souto in a midfielder position.
Grubba: Victor Souto
Krysinsky: Kenroy Howell and Jamal Jack. The international signings are always fascinating and intriguing. It’s always hard to tell what kind of impact they might have. Being that both players are veterans but have only played in leagues outside the U.S., will be interesting to see how they adapt to playing in USL and with the Hounds.
WHO WILL WIN THE USL’s EASTERN CONFERENCE
Grubba, Thomson & Welch: Louisville City FC
Sparks: Tampa Bay Rowdies
Been talking with Matthew Cox who covers the Rowdies for the Unused Subs Podcast. He feels this is the most complete roster they’ve had in years, and considering some of their big name signings and recent history with teams from the East, I think they’re going to do well.
McKriger: Even with my belief in the Riverhounds, I still believe that the Rochester Rhinos will win the Eastern Conference.
Krysinsky: Charleston and Louisville look the strongest. I think Cincinnati will be missing something in the attack after losing Sean Okali, but they will still be very formidable. With proven coaches, Rochester and Richmond always find a way to be in the top half of the league. St. Louis will be fascinating team with Preki coaching — and two proven scorers (Jose Angulo and Christian Volesky) added up top but a whole new back line. I am tempted to go with Charleston, who have most everyone coming back, but I tend to agree with most everyone else about Louisville. They’ve come so close in first two years as franchise and they’ve got the best balance in attack and defending.
Congratulations to former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports writer Meg Ryan, who was a part of our crew that covered the Hounds in 2015 and 2016, but she now has a gig covering the inaugural MLS season for the Minnesota United FC for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Also, I wanted to be sure to include a few other interesting nuggets from Thomson, who was behind the scenes with the franchise as Media Relations staff for the successful 2015 campaign, and the early part of 2016 season before moving from the Pittsburgh area.
They say past results are the best indicator of future performance. That’s difficult to judge when the Hounds are led by a 20-year coaching veteran who is embarking on his first full year at the professional level and only four players were around 12 months ago excluding the Columbus loanees. Pittsburgh specializes in self-induced turbulence.
This was supposed to be a year of huge change by the Monongahela. Those plans would now appear to have been shelved at a time when similarly suffering fans in Phoenix have been captivated by a wholesale rebrand at their club along with significant investment on and off the field. Still, the organizational tone of the Hounds appears to be slowly improving. Highmark Stadium GM Kevin Johnston hasbeen rolling out long overdue policies, procedures and basic governance conceptsthat have been largely absent over the past decade to the organization’s great detriment. That will undoubtedly help Dave Brandt, his coaching staff and players tofocus on their task.
A decent start to the season is vital or the Hounds will again be playing catch-up by the end of April. It’s a hole that they’ve been in frequently. They’ve never dug their way out.