Nashville SC’s opponent Saturday hasn’t hit the field for a regular-season match yet this year. So what are the Pittsburgh Riverhounds about? We caught up with Justin Ashcraft, a contributor to the outstanding Mon Goals podcast, to learn about the ‘Hounds.
For Club and Country: Does it seem like the team is itching to get onto the field after a bye last week? Do you see that more as a benefit (seeing other teams before hitting the field) or detriment (others have a game under their belts to get the jitters out)?
Justin Ashcraft: Obviously, I think that the first game of the season always brings out the itch in guys to get on the field. Unfortunately, with having the bye last weekend we snuck in a final pre-season game and lost to Villanova, 1-0. So, that leaves a bad taste in the mouth and I think these guys are ready to go. I think being able to watch Nashville last weekend gives us a slight advantage in the fact that we have seen you playing a competitive game. However, first game of the season always brings the jitters. We have a team that some of the guys have not played together before. So, it will be an interesting game for sure.
FCAC: What are the expectations for the season in and around the club? It seems like the playoffs are the expectation, would that be a fair way to characterize it?
JA: For sure, I think this team is thinking playoffs or bust. We have a new coach, in Bob Lilley, who we believe in. His pedigree speaks for itself having made the playoffs so often with Rochester. He brought 7 players over from his team in Rochester last year. We also made some good, talented signings this year. Players like Dennis Chin, Kenardo Forbes, Ben Zemanski, Christiano Francois, and Joe Greenspan puts talent at almost every position on the field. We were able to keep Kevin Kerr this year also. This team has high expectations, especially from the fan base.
FCAC: Who are the key players for the Riverhounds this year? How much roster (and coaching, of course) turnover was there, and who is expected to step up to replace the Corey Hertzogs of the world?
JA: Hertzog will be a hole to fill for sure. But we believe the players are there to fill those holes. Starting up top, I think there is a belief around Highmark that Romeo Parkes will take a more active role in the goal scoring this year. Lilley has been sending him out up top, where Dave Brandt was sending him out in the midfield. We also have Dennis Chin and Neco Brett who signed for us this season and Kay Banjo returning this year. The midfield is where a lot of the turnover happened. Kerr is back this year. But, Lilley brought Kenardo Forbes and Christiano Francois over from Rochester. We were also able to get Ben Zemanski from Portland and Mohammed Dabo from Penn FC. In the back, Joe Greenspan returns after some time here on loan last year. Tobi Adewole also comes back. We signed Hugh Roberts from Bethlehem Steel and Jordan Dover and Raymond Lee who spent time with Rochester. Our keeper situation is a young crew who seem to be led by Dan Lynd and Kyle Morten.
That being said, the keys to this season focus around Romeo Parkes being able to score goals, Joe Greenspan leading the line at the back, and who takes the goalkeeper spot. Obviously, lots of other players will play a part. But our success this season is around those three spots.
FCAC: NSC’s Taylor Washington played in Pittsburgh last year, and Lebo Moloto was with the Riverhounds in 2016. How do fans feel about those two, and do you expect their history with the club to have an impact on the pitch?
JA: I think this is such a great question. The fans loved both of those guys. You want quality guys in your locker room and they are two quality dudes.
Taylor Washington is a player that never quits. I don’t think him playing here will impact his game on the pitch more than his natural drive and talent. He is a guy who will get up and down your wings. Some of the 90′ minute sprints he made last year were mind boggling. He has so much energy and quality swinging balls into the box. He is probably a better guy off the field. He did so much in the community in Bethlehem and Pittsburgh. We were super disappointed that he was not brought back this season.
Lebo Moloto might have something to prove on Saturday. He was a guy that just did not fit our system when he was here in 2016. We, as fans, could see his quality and creativity. But he was able to go have a fantastic season at Swope last year and will be a key player for you guys this season.
FCAC: Do you have a projected starting lineup for Saturday? Any specific predictions about the game?
JA: As far as a starting line-up, I am really not sure. One of Lilley’s trademarks is that he does not play with a set system. We saw that in the pre-season. I think he played 3-4 different systems over those games. His latest, on Saturday, was a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, however you classify it. I think Kerr, Parkes, Forbes, Francois, Greenspan, Roberts, Lee and Dover are all close to locks. Lynd would be my guess for the goalkeeper.
As far as predictions, I am going to say 2-1 Hounds. I think your forwards get it together and get a goal. But I think the Hounds are going to be motivated after losing to ‘Nova after being undefeated to that point. But it is going to be tough getting balls past Pickens.
Thanks again to Justin for taking the time. Follow him on Twitter and check out Mon Goals for all your Riverhounds news.