As Bob Lilley usually does, he covered a wide swath of topics over the course of his 40+ minute press conference on Wednesday morning. Lots of attention was given to the current Covid-19 crisis and the opening of Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville on Sunday. Even as the Riverhounds get ready for the game, we talked less about the actual game, and more about the current team situation and mindset and a little bit about individual players.
Before I get into Bob’s comments over the course of the presser, I want to say first of all, that I am extremely excited to have soccer back in my life this weekend. With the kick off to the MLS is Back tournament, the continuation of the NWSL Challenge Cup, and the opening of the USL Championship season, I have enjoyed having a sport to talk about.
But along with that comes the hesitation. The way the U.S. has handled the current health pandemic has made me nervous for the players and their travels. These are players who are already playing on low money salaries, while traveling to other markets, and trying to play a very contact sport. It is a bit nerve-racking. So thoughts and prayers to the players, coaches, and staff as we try to start back up again! Let’s hope it works!
The First Steel City Team Back
Asked about being the first Pittsburgh team to start playing again, Bob Lilley said, “The guys are excited…So far, there have been no positive tests, but that’s one of the tricky parts as we go forward.” The reality for him is “there will inevitably be positive tests.” So, the question then becomes, how does the league, the teams, and the players handles these positive tests? For me, looking at the situation, it’s on thin ice already. But when you in the fact teams have to travel to these things and there is no “bubble” like MLS and NWSL, it puts the season on razor thin ice. Things could come to a grinding halt if one major outbreak happens as teams are playing each other 2-3 times this season.
Fitness and Sharpness
When you have had a long layoff, like what the USL just went through, an important piece to the puzzle is managing the fitness and the sharpness of the players as we jump into this shortened season. Bob reiterated for us that there is no time for a slump and no team can dig themselves a hole early. So it is important to get results early. However, he feels the Hounds have a strong game plan for Saturday and said “they actually did a good job” during the break maintaining fitness levels. He credited Trainer Bob Smith and Assistant Coach Dan Visser with the success. While he did say no one is really at game fitness, he did like where everyone was leading into the season.
A Few Injuries and Unavailable Players
Steevan Dos Santos is recovering from a surgery during the break and will not be available on Sunday. Bob did say he is recovering nicely.
Mark Lindstrom came back from the break looking strong from his injury but did have a set back and will not be available on Sunday.
Patrick Bunk-Anderson is still in Denmark dealing with passport and Visa issues.
And maybe the biggest piece, the Riverhounds had signed Albert Dikwa right before the break and never announced the signing. But, he is actually in Cameroon still also dealing with the passport and Visa issues.
Those are the players that will not available. Bob did say they have 3 training sessions before the game on Sunday. Thursday and Friday’s session will be in Pittsburgh and Saturday’s session in Louisville as the Riverhounds get ready for the opener against LouCity.
The Riverhounds Get Ready for Sunday’s Game
It’s a big opportunity to be on ESPN2 any time it happens, Bob mentioned. He added, “The team has worked hard to get broadcasts out these last few years and to get exposure.”
“It’s not the way that I would have drawn up the schedule to go to Louisville for a home opener out of the gate, especially when we are working to get sharp and to get to our best level. But in a lot of ways, it’s a really good measuring stick.” Louisville had played one game before the break, beating North Carolina 1-0.
Bob talked about several of the Louisville players, mentioning by name: Brian Ownby, Luke Spencer, Niall McCabe, Speedy Williams, former Golden Boot winner Cameron Lancaster, and new addition Corben Bone. Obviously, LouCity has the attacking goods. But as far as how Pittsburgh can handle the pressure, he mentioned players have to ask the question of ‘how can we hurt Louisville?’ With so much talent on the front end, the Hounds can not “go in and sit and bunker.” But, it is important the Riverhounds defend first by attacking. That’s one of the main objectives as they have been preparing and figuring out how they might even “pin them in for stretches.” As defensive-minded as Bob’s teams can appear on the field, he is definitely not looking at this as a park the bus type game. He talked going with the “intent to win.”
- He mentioned the leadership of Robbie Mertz at the end of last season and beginning of this season. He talked about Mertz’s respect of the older players but the ways in which he held himself and others accountable.
- Along the lines of leadership, he talked at length about Ryan James and Jordan Dover and their leadership in this squad. Mentioning both of them are hitting 26-28 years of age and their presence in locker room. He said how they both get missed in the discussion of leadership on the Hounds.
- On Mark Forrest: “I would love to say that he is lighting it up right now, but that is just not what is happening.” He did mention Mark has good days and bad days. Mark is really less than a year into the league after finishing his college degree last season before joining the team as well.
The Riverhounds get ready to open their season on Sunday at 5pm. The game is in Louisville.
For more Riverhounds content check out, the latest episode of Mon Goals: https://www.bgn.fm/the-usl-is-back-kind-of/