If I could subtitle this article, it would be, balancing ‘What the heck is happening?’ with ‘In Bob We Trust.’ Or, “A Little bit Too ‘Silent Night’ and not enough ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”
The curtain dropped on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ 2019 season on November 2nd with a 2-1 loss to Louisville City FC. Paulo Del Piccolo put the Hounds season to bed with a 118th minute winner in the second half of extra time. It was an entertaining game and an interesting night. Both teams had people questioning whether they were going to even make the playoffs. However, the Hounds finished the season winning eight of their last eleven games and LouCity won nine of their last 13 to finish 1st and 4th in the Eastern Conference respectively. This was a game of two talented teams playing at their best. LouCity seemed more rested and ready to go as they wore the Hounds down over the course of the game.
That night started a slow and quiet offseason. Thirty two days later, the Hounds finally announced the options that they were picking up and who was out of contract. The following players had their options picked up on December 4th:
- Forwards: Steevan Dos Santos, Mark Forrest
- Midfielders: Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Anthony Velarde
- Defenders: Tommy Vancaeyezeele, Dani Rovira, Ryan James
Players such as long time captain Kevin Kerr, leading scorer Neco Brett, USL defender of the year Joe Greenspan, and core players Kyle Morton, Tobi Adewole, and Jordan Dover are all out of contract. With Brett having signed for Birmingham on December 16th and midfielder Mo Dabo signing for Reno 1868 on December 6th, it removes them from consideration of coming back. Coach Bob Lilley said in the press release where these moves were announced that they are “continuing conversations with our players who are out of contract.” Who those players are is yet to be seen as we have heard nothing specific out of the Hounds’ camp in two weeks.
I want to make it clear at this point in the article that I am not panicking yet. With Mertz, Velarde and Vancaeyezeele, Lilley has shown in the last two years that he can find college players who can play at this level. He can also find them late when MLS teams start dropping drafted players from their rosters. With MLS training camps beginning in just about a month and the season starting earlier, these players will be dropped even earlier in the year.
But, it has been a little too “Silent Night”-ish around these parts this year. The Hounds have 8 players on the roster at this point. That leaves a long wish list of positions that need to be filled. You can see what the lineup looks like right now in the image below. When I look around the league, teams are starting to make moves and my fear is that the Hounds might get left behind.
Louisville signed 16 players from their USL Championship runner-up squad last year. Then, they added Jimmy Ockford from Nashville and Corben Bone from Cincinnati.
Tampa Bay brought back nine players from their 5th place squad last year. The Rowdies have now added 2018 USL defender of the year Forrest Lasso from Nashville and Lewis Hilton from Indy Eleven.
Speaking of Indy Eleven, they have 17 players under contract for next year. They have added Carl Haworth from the now-defunct Ottawa Fury. They also reached into USL League 1 and grabbed Conner Antley and Nick Moon from the Richmond Kickers and Lansing Ignite, respectively.
Other than that, Charleston has a new crest (Louisville does too, but it sucks.). Birmingham added Brett and Bolu Akinyode. St. Louis returned nine players and added Wal Fall from Ottawa. Also, we will see the addition of The Miami FC coming over from NISA. Swope Park and Bethlehem Steel have been returned to their parent clubs as Sporting KC II and Philadelphia Union II.
Back to the Hounds, there is a part of me that trusts Bob Lilley and Tuffy Shallenberger. The organization has shown a plan to move forward. The ownership has purchased the land underneath the stadium which will allow them more flexibility in parking, etc. They have also partnered with Allegheny Health Network for a huge soccer complex outside the city. And the team has finished 3rd and 1st in the Eastern Conference in the last two seasons. All of this shows the team has plans.
It does concern me that the team has not made any moves yet this offseason. You would think that they would test the asking price of Kerr, Greenspan, Adewole, and Dover. There are lots of players still on the market such as: Paco Craig (Louisville), Lebo Moloto (Nashville), and Ropapa Mensah (Nashville). The Hounds also hosted open tryouts and an invite tryout. So, there are players to be had.
But, the Hounds need to start moving. They need players and they need them soon. As Louisville found out this season, you can’t immediately replace your leading scorer and goalkeeper and keep moving along.
My Pittsburgh Christmas List? Let’s get this train moving and start announcing some signings in Pittsburgh. If the roster is at 10-12 before the New Year, I will feel much better moving into the 2020 season. I do like the freedom that Bob gives himself to sign good players late in the offseason. But, is this team going to start moving or are we stuck for the moment?
So, Bob? Tuffy? #UnleashTheContracts