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Riverhounds 2015 Early Forecast

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Rounding Out the Roster

As their preseason begins Monday, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are rounding out their roster in what appears to be a year of transition under new head coach Mark Steffens.    

Team officials have said that they have 21 players under contract that will begin training at Highmark Stadium this week. 

Here's what we know:

The core group of players who remain on the roster include: Seth C’deBaca, Matt Dallman, Danny Earls, Sterling Flunder, Mike Green, Kevin Kerr and Rob Vincent.

In addition to the returning players, the team has been busy adding to their roster. It appears most of their announced signings addressed midfield, back line and goalkeeping spots.   

The biggest loss the Hounds will have to overcome will be that of 2013 USL MVP and the team's leading goal scorer the past two seasons, Jose Angulo, who has signed with Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL). 

Among their biggest acquisitions, include Jamaican goalkeeper Ryan Thompson and Ghanaian midfielder Stephen Okai, along with bringing back Anthony Arena and Miro Cabrilo. 

This week, the Hounds added defenders Drew Russell and Fejiro Okiomah -- both who, along with Okai, played for Mark Steffens in Charlotte in recent years. 

The Riverhounds also signed two of their top players from their 2014 PDL roster: midfielder Anthony Virgara and goalkeeper Ryan Hulings.
 
Arena anchored the team’s back line last year for many games while on loan from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, appearing in 16 league games for the Riverhounds, earning the team’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

"Anthony is a key signing for us," said Steffens. "He brings great leadership on and off the field and his professionalism will impact our younger players in a positive way.

"He will stabilize our back four and be the backbone to our defensive unit."

Thompson, 30, is a well-traveled veteran who has minded the net on many levels. He has played for Jamaica’s national team after previously appearing for the Reggae Boyz at the Under-20 and U-23 levels. Thompson spent last season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies before helping his country to lift the Caribbean Cup in November. He's also played with Ireland's Shamrock Rovers, becoming the first Jamaican to play in the UEFA Champions League. 

“We expect big things out of Ryan,” said Steffens. “He can be acrobatic, he has the ability to make big saves under pressure, and he is also very clean and steady.”

Okai, 25, played for Charlotte when they reached the USL PRO Championship Game before losing to Orlando City in 2013.

He spent last year with the Orange County Blues, scoring twice in 26 league appearances.

“Stephen is the consummate playmaker who makes everyone around him better,” Steffens said. “He is extremely hard to dispossess.”

Russell, a 24-year-old defender who made six appearances for the Charlotte Eagles last year under the tutelage of Steffens.

"Drew is a very athletic center-back who has the ability to play anywhere across the back line," Steffens said. "He's big, strong and fast and he has the technical ability to build out of defense.

Okiomah is the third player on the roster that played under Steffens at Charlotte. He scored the opening goal of the 2013 USL championship game at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

Cabrilo, a graduate of Robert Morris University, joined the Riverhounds last May after impressing Pittsburgh’s coaching staff in pre-season games against RMU and in training sessions with the team. The 22-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario featured in 12 league games last year and scored two goals, including the game winner at Charlotte that kept the Hounds in the playoff hunt. 

“I like Miro’s ability to hold the ball while under a lot of pressure,” Steffens said. “He can also be creative in the attacking third and is a quality finisher.”

Pittsburgh native Virgara signed his first professional contract with his hometown club last August after his impressive play with the Riverhounds' Premier Development League team in the summer.

The versatile 23-year-old midfielder attended Keystone Oaks and Seton LaSalle high schools before spending four years at Marshall University. Virgara made 63 appearances for The Herd during his collegiate career.

Hulings joined the Riverhounds in 2013 after playing collegiately for Baldwin Wallace University.

In summary, the club has announced 15 of their 21 signings, and once they finalize details with USL, the final six names will be announced this coming week as they start the preseason.  

Analysis

The Steel Army

With the additions to the roster, and returning players, the Riverhounds appear to have stability and talent in some key positions – but also leave a lot of questions about what the starting eleven and, in particular, who will replace Angulo at the top of their attack.

But Steffens has brought a few players he has coached in Charlotte, which should help him with having some players familiar with his tactics and technical training.
 
It will be an asset to have a veteran presence minding the net in Thompson, who will be replacing both Hunter Gilstrap (who signed with the Carolina Railhawks in the offseason) and Mike Lisch (who remains under contract with the Houston Dynamo). Having Arena back will most certainly solidify the team's central defense – as he provided solid presence a year ago when he was with the club. Looking at the rest of the back line, Flunder, who has surpassed 100 team appearances for the club, will likely climb near the top of the Riverhounds record chart of most games played this season, is very likely to occupy one of outside back spots. In addition to Arena and Flunder, they have added Okiomah and Russell to the mix. There's also a chance that Rob Vincent could move to the back line as well.  

At midfield, with Earls, Vincent, Kerr and Dallman returning, they have proven USL veterans who have worked well together. Add Okai, who is a holding midfielder, and they could become a strong possession team. Green, C'deBaca and Virgara are versatile players who also provide midfield depth. 

This might be a signal that Steffens might be looking at a potential five midfielder alignment with multiple options.   What the Hounds look to be lacking at present make up of their midfield, may be a speedy or dynamic presence on the left side that could complement Dallman on right side. The left-footed Earls was most productive in an attacking midfielder role in 2014. Both Dallman and Earls provide options to deliver set pieces, and Okai has proven experience and success in taking free kicks in his career as well. Due to a variety of circumstances, Dallman spent a lot of time playing out of position at outside back in 2014, which limited his production.  Previously, in his breakout season, Dallman led the USL in assists in 2013, when he was a constant, and dangerous threat from the right outside midfield spot.

Cabrilo's is the only forward on the official roster heading into camp. It's quite obvious that among the team's remaining unannounced signings, would have to be a forward (or two). It's anyone’s guess at this point what the top of the attack will really look like. Cabrilo appears to be more of a natural, center forward, who can hold the ball up, and redistribute.  In 2014, he was mostly was utilized as a late substitution. Green was also utilized in an attacking role at striker during the team’s resurgence at midseason. It will be very interesting to see how Green fits in this year.   

Steffens has had success getting the most out of young players and a limited budget. So don't expect too many veteran names to be in the final six names announced to the roster this week. That's right -- don't expect Freddy Adu to be named to the roster anytime soon. The Hounds are in a period of transition but they believe they will be able to field a strong team in 2015.

That being said, I would be hard pressed to pick a starting eleven from the current roster. If you forced me to against my will to pick a team that would take the field today, I would likely go with the following alignment (4-5-1), with the following players: (F) Green; (MF) Earls, Kerr, Dallman, Okai, Vincent; (D) Arena, Flunder, Okiomah, Russell; (GK) Thompson.

Later this week, be sure to check back for Part III – Pittsburgh Riverhounds Early 2015 Forecast – Keys To Successful Season.

Follow John Krysinsky for latest updates and information about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Twitter @johnkrysinsky

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