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Riverhounds toast of Pro Soccer League

| Wednesday, July 7, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

To put it simply, the Atlantic Division-leading Riverhounds (10-2-1, 31 points) of the Pro Soccer League are on a roll. With a 5-0 drubbing of the Cleveland Internationals (2-9-1, 7 pts.) of the Premier Developmental League this past Friday, the Riverhounds extended their season-long winning streak to seven games and their unbeaten streak to eight.

In the minds of many of the players, the 'Hounds are doing exactly what they thought they were capable of.

"At the beginning of the season, we did think that we were the best team in the league," rookie forward Said Ali said.

A big reason behind the team's success this season has been the upfront scoring duo of Ali and six-year veteran David Flavius. The pair is tied for fifth in the league in goals scored with eight apiece in PSL action.

For Flavius though, Pittsburgh's winning ways have a lot more to do with the relationships the team has developed within itself rather than just the amount of goals it has scored.

"You have a lot of friendship in this team, so winning makes that even better," he said. "That's a big part of our winning streak: guys playing as one and playing with that friendship. It's a bond. That's what makes us great. There is nothing magic about it."

The bond that exists amongst the team can be at least partially credited to head coach Ricardo Iribarren. Since being hired by Pittsburgh in July, 2003, Iribarren has registered a 20-4-1 record with the club.

Ali thinks he knows why.

"When he did his recruiting, he was looking for a special kind of player and that's why it is so easy to play under him," he said. "I know what he is going to say. He knows what I'm going to do. There's great communication between us."

For Iribarren, a former Pittsburgh player himself, the feeling is mutual. He hopes to be leading the club from the sidelines for a long time; saying about the only other coaching position job he would take would be on a national team.

"They've been great," Iribarren said. "I don't want to ever leave this team. If they want me to leave, they'll have to fire me."

Despite their recent winning ways, the 'Hounds refuse to stand pat and are continually looking for opportunities to improve the squad. Pittsburgh jumped on two such opportunities recently by dropping defender Michael Green and adding midfielder/forward Damian Pottinger, Duquesne University's all-time leading scorer.

Green played in 59 games for the 'Hounds in 2003 and was most recently with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer League's A-League.

"He's the kind of player you want to have on your team," midfielder Gary DePalma said. "He's going to help us on the field, but he's also going to help us a lot with his experience in a leadership role."

While at Duquesne, Pottinger registered 60 points and was a three-yeyar starter. He had an assist in the Riverhounds game on Friday.

"He's a smart player and he's very strong," Iribarren said. "He understood right away what we were doing."

Now that the 'Hounds' regular-season schedule has only seven games remaining, the key for the team is to keep everyone available.

"We just have to make sure that everyone is healthy and basically that's it," Ali said. "If we stay healthy, we shouldn't have any problems."

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