By Josh Taylor, KDKA-TV Sports
The 2018 season was intended to be one of major transition for Riverhounds SC: a new name, new logo, new uniforms and new coaching staff, among other things. But with all of these changes there have also been new, unfamiliar results that have caught the attention of the United Soccer League.
The Riverhounds, currently 4-0-3 after their first seven matches, are the only remaining unbeaten team in the league, and their 15 total points are good enough for third place in the Eastern Conference. They finished 13th in each of the previous two seasons.
“I think it’s fair to say we’ve even surpassed what we expected, especially with the turnover we’ve had,” said veteran forward Kevin Kerr, a former USL All-League Second Team selection in 2015. “With new [coaches], you expect these things to take time.”
Bob Lilley was named head coach of the Riverhounds on Nov. 17, 2017, after spending six seasons with the Rochester Rhinos. Rochester made the playoffs in each of those seasons and won the USL Cup in 2015. With Lilley came a new coaching staff, including assistant coach Mark Pulisic, and a singular focus in preparation that the players say has made a big difference.
“With this coach, he always reminds you whatever game you played last week is already gone,” said forward Neco Brett, a Robert Morris alum whose five goals are tied for second most in the league. “The next game is the most important one, and for us to make the playoffs, you always have to focus on every game.”
“It’s just the intensity and the attention to detail,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t give boys a minute. We’ve gotten off to a cracking start, but he hasn’t let up one bit. Everyone is crystal clear what they have to do on a weekend, and everyone knows what’s demanded of them.”
Perhaps more surprising than the results of their first seven matches is how they’ve come about. The Riverhounds have not trailed for a single minute in any of their matches. But the players say it is not as important as maintaining their focus throughout an entire match.
“If we continue to be disciplined, then all that other stuff – the streaks and stuff – that will continue,” said goalkeeper Dan Lynd, who played at the University of Pittsburgh. “But that’s not the most important thing. It’s just being ready for each individual game.”
“The offense needs a little bit of work, and that will take a little bit of time, but defensively, we’re strong,” said Kerr. “It’s something we’re taking pride in, being the last team to get beaten.”
The players say they want to stay focused on performing well and aiming to win every game, but they also know that their unbeaten run could end at any time.
“The wheels aren’t going to come off when it goes,” says Kerr, “but we’ll try to keep it going as long as possible.”
With their early success comes the likelihood that opponents will no longer take them for granted, but that is a byproduct of being near the top of the standings.
“I think every year is a new year, and you never know what team is going to step up,” said Lynd. “But if that was a thing, I think that’s probably over for us. I don’t think we’re going to be sneaking up on anybody. I think we’ve proven that we’re a good team, and the schedule is only going to get more difficult.”
The Riverhounds’ next USL match comes Friday against Indy Eleven at Highmark Stadium. The week after they will go on the road to compete in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup, an annual tournament between professional and amateur teams that crowns U.S. Soccer’s national champion.