Riverhounds open season with several new faces
Last season was not exactly the triumphant return to the field that the Riverhounds hoped for after the team took 2007 off to reorganize.
Pittsburgh’s resident United Soccer League-Second Division team opened the season 0-8-2 before finally breaking out the second half of the year, finishing 4-10-6. Despite the late surge, they finished one goal shy of making the playoffs.
“I think last year was definitely trying for everyone involved,” said returning midfielder Justin Evans, named to the USL-2 all-league second team last year. “But I really think we gained a lot of momentum the last half of the season, and we’ve carried it through to this year. The first game we played really well, and we’re looking forward to what’s going to come.”
The Riverhounds opened the season last Saturday with a 0-0 tie against Crystal Palace Baltimore.
While the defensive effort was commendable, the lack of offense reflected the team’s biggest offseason loss, Thamison “Boyzzz” Khumalo, who went to DC United of Major League Soccer. Khumalo was the team’s leading scorer and sixth in the league with six goals and three assists. He was the lone Riverhounds player named to the USL-2 all-league first team.
“A guy like ‘Boyzzz’ is very difficult to replace because of the unique talent and different dimension he brings to the game,” Riverhounds coach Gene Klein said. “We have to try to find the right combinations up front, and we’re still looking. But we definitely have confidence in the guys we brought in.”
The Riverhounds also lost defender Greg Janicki to DC United.
In addition to Evans, the Riverhounds return longtime defender Nathan Salsi, top midfielder Jason Cutney and goaltender Zach Varga.
Also returning – albeit years later – is defender Tenywa Bonseu, one of the original Riverhounds. He went on to play in the MLS before settling with the Rochester Rhinos of the USL-First Division the past three seasons.
Two new faces are forwards Bill Brindley, who played for Real Maryland last season, and Randolph Jerome, who spent last season with USL-2’s Cleveland before the team moved up to USL-1.
After the opening draw to Baltimore, one of the early season favorites, the Riverhounds take on another powerhouse on the road on Saturday when they face Richmond. The home opener is against the Real Maryland Monarchs on May 2 at Chartiers Valley High School.
“We have some talent, but it’s going to be crucial that our players come together as a team,” Klein said. “Every year the league is improved, and all the teams step it up and make the league very competitive. You can never be complacent, because every team’s always looking to improve. It will be a very difficult (season); every game will be a heck of a challenge. We’re going to have to work exceptionally hard to be up to the task.”
April 17: Riverhounds 0, Crystal Palace Baltimore 0
April 25: Riverhounds at Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m.
May 2: Real Maryland Monarchs at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
May 9: Riverhounds at Harrisburg City Islanders, 7:05 p.m.
May 16: Harrisburg City Islanders at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
May 29: Riverhounds at Charlotte Eagles, 7:05 p.m.
May 30: Riverhounds at Wilmington Hammerheads, 7 p.m.
June 11: Bermuda Hogges at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
June 14: Richmond Kickers at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
June 20: Riverhounds at Western Mass Pioneers, 7:30 p.m.
June 26: Richmond Kickers at Riverhounds (at Edinboro University), 7:05 p.m.
July 2: Riverhounds at Bermuda Hogges, 6 p.m.
July 4: Riverhounds at Bermuda Hogges, 7 p.m.
July 11: Riverhounds at Real Maryland Monarchs, 6 p.m.
July 18: Riverhounds at Harrisburg City Islanders, 7:05 p.m.
July 24: Western Mass Pioneers at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
July 26: Western Mass Pioneers at Riverhounds, 3:05 p.m.
Aug. 1: Wilmington Hammerheads at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
Aug. 8: Charlotte Eagles at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
Aug. 15: Crystal Palace Baltimore at Riverhounds, 7:05 p.m.
Home games played at Chartiers Valley High School
Karen Price is a former freelancer.