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Eastern Conference Preview: Pittsburgh Riverhounds

The Basics

The Riverhounds have been around for a long time. They were founded in 1998 as part of the USL-A League. Now playing in the USL Eastern Conference, they gave LCFC everything they wanted last season, and made it to the playoffs. They finished the season with a first-round exit at the hands of New York RedBulls II. But they’ve made some moves since then, and hope to return to the USL postseason this go-round.

The Coach

Pittsburgh is coached by USL Hall of Famer Mark Steffens. Steffens didn’t have much of a career himself, signing only one professional contract with the New York Apollo of the American Soccer League, playing from 1975-1976 before retiring to coaching. He coached at several high schools and colleges before finding himself as the coach of the Charlotte Eagles, in the USL-2. He coached Charlotte from 1997-2014, winning two championships and being named to the USL Hall of Fame. In short, he’s no slouch. He’s coached the Riverhounds since 2014, when Charlotte decided to self-relegate to the USL-PDL.

The Players

As I said before, Pittsburgh has made some moves. By that, I mostly mean, they’ve had a ton of roster turnover, most notably losing the team’s leading scorer Rob Vincent to MLS side D.C. United. Vincent had 20 goals for Pittsburgh last season.

Another notable loss is defender (and winner of this writer’s “Best Name in Sports Award”) Sterling Flunder, who has moved into a coaching position with the team’s Academy. However, Pittsburgh is filling the void with players it hopes will spark continued success and progress as a team. Turnover is part of professional sports, and they’re dealing with it the only way they can: by taking what they can get.

They’ve signed local goalkeeping prospect Brendan Alfrey, who played collegiate soccer at nearby Robert Morris, as well as a former Riverhound who’s returning to town, goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, who spent last season with NASL side Carolina Railhawks. And they also signed…you guessed it, another goalkeeper. Mauricio Vargas, from Wichita FC.

It’s a shame they can’t all play together. Maybe they’ll morph into one mega-goalie, a la Zords in Power Rangers. Either way, they should be able to find one decent prospect out of the bunch. If not, the Riverhounds will be in trouble this season.

The Fans

The Steel Army (steelarmy.com) marches alongside the Riverhounds. Personally, I’m not sure what an army has to do with Riverhounds (which are, like, beavers or something, I guess?), but that’s Pittsburgh for you. Whether it’s the Iron Curtain or the Steel Army, those people love their sports-military crossovers.

My Take

Roster turnover is one of the hardest things to overcome in sports at any level. Losing Vincent’s 20 goals is huge. But the defense should be solid, and I have to think they’ll be good in the net. I’d say they’ll still be a playoff team, probably somewhere from 4-6 in the conference.