The Pittsburgh Riverhounds have not had the successful 2016 season they were looking for.
After rebuilding their entire team, and even going through a coaching change after nine games, the Riverhounds still finished their season with a disappointing 6-16-7 season (they have one more game to play for the final standings).
The Riverhounds six wins occurred during the end of the season, and mainly under the leadership of Dave Brandt, the head coach that replaced Mark Steffens after the Riverhounds 2-1 win over Toronto FC II on May 21. That was the only match the Riverhounds won under Steffens.
The Riverhounds rebuilt their roster to head into the 2016 season. Steffens only had Stephen Okai, Michael Green, Lebo Moloto, Drew Russell, Willie Hunt, Nick Kolarac, and captain Kevin Kerr as the returning players to the squad.
The squad brought in three new goalkeepers, Mauricio Vargas, Hunter Gilstrap, and Brenden Alfery. Gilstrap started the season in net, but was replaced by Vargas, who is now off the Riverhounds roster and back in Costa Rica. Alfery has dressed for some games, but has not appeared in a game. Now, the Riverhounds have Zack Steffen in net, a player on loan from the Columbus Crew SC.
He’s not the only Crew SC player; Marshall Hollingsworth and Ben Swanson were the two original players to grace the Riverhounds squad from the Crew. However, Swanson went back to Columbus with injury and Brandt was given plenty of recruits from Columbus, including Rodrigo Saravia, Chad Barson and Cristian Martinez. Martinez and Hollingsworth are the players that have featured the most for the Riverhounds.
The Riverhounds seemed to go through another transition period during the middle of the season when they let go players brought in by Steffens. Karsten Smith, Caleb Postlewait, Conor Branson, Ryan Dodson, Isaiah Schafer, Alex Harlley, and James Bissue. Another player to be released was Romeo Parkes, for his kicking incident which was led to a season-long ban from soccer in the USL.
Now, Smith is currently with FC Edmonton of the NASL making a playoff push (they’re number two in the standings), Schafer is enjoying success with Tulsa, and Branson is coaching, and has a graduate position, at the University of Virginia, where he attended college with former Riverhound Rob Vincent (who went to the MLS this year).
The Riverhounds replaced those players with many players Brandt was familiar with from his days at Messiah College. Brandt brought in Nick Thompson, Jack Thompson, Danny Earls, Melvin Snoh, Anthony Virgara, Ryan Adeleye, Chevaughn Walsh, and Alejandro Aguilar.
Even with all the changes, and a new style of playing from Brandt’s attacking offensive system, the Riverhounds were not able to make a playoff push. They currently sit at 13th place in the Eastern Conference, with just only two points ahead of FC Montreal.
The Riverhounds have one last home game, and it’s the their final game of the season, against FC Cincinnati tonight at Highmark Stadium (7 p.m. kickoff). However, the team needs to start looking ahead to next season. While some might not believe that Dave Brandt’s system is the right one for the Riverhounds, I would argue that it is. Five of the Riverhounds’ six wins came under Brandt’s system. What needs to happen is a change of position for some players.
The Riverhounds have been playing Michael Green as a defender seemingly all season. Green is a natural midfielder. While the Riverhounds have players capable of playing in the right back position that Green normally fills, they don’t use natural right backs.
When it comes to the midfield, the Riverhounds have a stable group, especially with Kerr, Moloto, and Okai. The Riverhounds will also have a strong front if they can keep Corey Hertzog and Chevaughn Walsh on their roster for the following season.
One area the Riverhounds need to scout on is the goalkeeper position. The reins need to be given to the younger generation, as Gilstrap announced his retirement from professional soccer on Saturday afternoon. Alfery is still learning, and deserves some starts toward the beginning of the next preseason. However, the Riverhounds will probably not have Steffen and there’s no way Vargas is coming back to the United States anytime soon. The Riverhounds need to look closely at goalkeepers and find one that suits their system and defense.
And unlike this year, the Riverhounds need to settle on goalkeeper. The Riverhounds had a tendency to start Vargas and Gilstrap on a rotation. Believe it or not, that doesn’t help the players, especially the defense. The defense communicates with the goalkeeper, and sine goalkeepers have different styles, switching between one and the other every other week doesn’t seem very consistent.
The Riverhounds have a lot of changes to make this offseason. It will be fairly interesting to see who stays and who goes. The Riverhounds need to plan this offseason, and they need to do it carefully to avoid another losing season.
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