New-look Riverhounds open preseason camp
With a nearly three-hour session that was equal parts practice and audition, the Riverhounds raised the curtain on their preparations for 2018.
Thirteen players under contract and 17 nonroster invitees make up the Riverhounds roster for their first training camp under veteran USL coach Bob Lilley, and those players were thrown into up-tempo game situations Monday at the team's first practice, which was moved indoors to Southpointe Fieldhouse because of cold, icy conditions.
Mixing sometimes-blunt critiques with praise, Lilley was vocal during the practice, even toward his veterans. He often encouraged midfielder Kevin Kerr to push forward and deployed Romeo Parkes, who played last year as a midfielder, as a striker, already revealing likely changes to the team that went 8-12-12 a year ago.
But with so many new faces playing for contracts, player evaluation is the first task for Lilley and his staff.
“I think the intensity was good, but the quality wasn't great. But I didn't expect it to be great the first day,” Lilley said. “They're adjusting to each other, and they're adjusting to me and the way I put demands and urgency on them.”
Parkes, who rejoined the club in the middle of last season, said it was too early to tell how Lilley would differ from former coach Dave Brandt tactically, but the Jamaican forward said an emphasis would be put on the pace of play.
“With what he wants, we're going to have a lot of achievement, but he needs us to play faster. You can't play slow,” Parkes said.
“You have to be able to deal with pressure. You don't get to decide how you want to play in a game,” Lilley said. “When (the Rochester Rhinos, Lilley's former team) played Pittsburgh and we raised the tempo on them, they couldn't play at that tempo. These are just cornerstones. We don't have to play direct, but we have to get the ball moving off our foot.”
The players best able to play at the speed Lilley seeks will earn contracts out of camp, and as many as 10 will be signed from the current group, the coach said. The list of trialists includes players from nine countries with varied backgrounds. Among them:
• Neco Brett, a Jamaican striker who led the nation in scoring at Robert Morris before Portland picked him in the second round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
• Joseph Holland, an English midfielder who played at Hofstra and was selected 10th overall by Houston in last year's MLS SuperDraft.
• Phil Fives, a defender and North Allegheny grad seeking his first pro deal after playing in college at Indiana.
• Stephen Okai and Ritchie Duffie, two 2017 Riverhounds currently out of contract.
Between Lilley's style and the number of open jobs, the intensity of Monday's practice is likely to be the norm this preseason.
“It's good, because it gives everyone a challenge,” Parkes said. “The other guys are trying to get a job, and though we have a job already, it's not like we're comfortable. There's competition for positions in practice, and that's the way it should be.”
The Riverhounds first test in game situations will be this weekend, when they host NAIA Spring Arbor (Mich.) on Saturday and Cleveland State on Sunday. Lilley said no player is likely to play much more than 90 minutes between the two games, and some veterans might be rested.