Riverhounds hope for better start with new coach, host of new players
With a new coach, plenty of new players and even new-look uniforms, the Riverhounds are trying to start anew this season.
The Riverhounds have a chance to put the hardships of 2014 behind them when they open their third season at Highmark Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday against in-state rival Harrisburg.
A tumultuous 2014 season began with a 10-match winless streak. Justin Evans was fired as head coach and the team declared, and later emerged from bankruptcy.
Under new coach Mark Steffens, a two-time championship winner with Charlotte and USL Hall of Famer, the Riverhounds hope to make those things distant memories.
“You always want to get off to a good start, and it's probably doubly important here because of the seasons where the team didn't get off to a good start,” Steffens said. “It's vital for us starting with Harrisburg and Rochester because there's not an easy team there. If we let down a little bit, we'll get in a hole. We've got to bring our A-game every single game.”
Since Steffens was hired in December, the Riverhounds' roster has undergone a makeover with a focus on youth and speed. Only one of the team's 12 new signings, Jamaican international goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, is more than 25 years old.
The young newcomers fill in around a returning group that includes defenders Anthony Arena and Sterling Flunder, and a deep midfield group of Danny Earls, Rob Vincent, Kevin Kerr, Matt Dallman and Mike Green.
“We've been going at it (in practice) for five weeks now, so we're itching to get going,” Earls said. “It's always difficult bringing in new players because you never know how they're going to jell.
“But I feel like the manager and the coaches have put together some good players and we're playing quite well together.”
While many of those veterans are expected to be in Saturday's lineup, Steffens has a problem at the outside back positions. Dallman, Flunder and newcomer Drew Russell are injured, and another new player, Tyler Pasher, is away with the Canadian National Team.
“Nobody is out for sure,” Steffens said. “We're a little light and we signed a couple of new guys who can play there, but I don't know if they'll be ready for the weekend or not.”
No matter the lineup, the most important thing to the players is avoiding early-season woes.
“You want to start quick. It builds momentum and it's like a snowball. It's tough to stop once it gets going,” Earls said. “Hopefully, we get some things to go our way, put the ball in the back of the net and get some results to start.”