While all of his Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC teammates were in Pittsburgh preparing for the upcoming season, Mark Forrest was about four hours east preparing for something different.
Though the 22-year-old had been with the Hounds in Pittsburgh for a trial period in February, and even inked a contract with the club, he was forced to return to Lehigh University in the spring to finish his final semester before graduation.
“It’s been a little weird to be honest,” Forrest said. “I came in, went on trial here, then spent about a week and a half here in preseason. I had to go back for some school stuff that needed attention. I needed to graduate, then I came back here.”
Forrest attempted to make arrangements with his professors to complete his remaining coursework online in an effort to remain with the club. Ultimately, plans fell through, and the forward had to head back to Lehigh to wrap up his academic career.
“I sort of got acclimated for a week and a half, then went back to a much different environment,” Forrest said. “A couple months later I had to come back and sort of acclimate. I tried to just do everything I could to just hit the ground running when I got back out here.”
The situation has been challenging for not only Forrest, but for head coach Bob Lilley as well. With the amount of experience Lilley has in the coaching field, he’s dealt with similar scenarios with players before.
For that reason, Lilley knew he could make any arrangement work and was comfortable with bringing Forrest aboard.
“We knew it would be a tough transition when he got here because he’s behind all of the guys,” Lilley said. “They’ve been here, they know what we want, they’re fitter, they have more game fitness. He’s been working hard and he’s a player that we think has a good upside.
“How far he gets this year is hard to predict. But we’re just trying to get him working hard, to grow as much as possible and learn as much as he can which will make him hopefully even more effective next year.”
Forrest was able to work out with Lehigh University’s men’s soccer team during its spring season to help stay in shape. Even with that training, he admits that his biggest challenge has been getting adjusted to the speed of the professional game.
So far this season, Forrest has made appearances in four matches for a total of 92 minutes. His comfort level on the field grows more each day, but he is still working toward reaching the fitness level to see more game action.
“You can do as many sprints as you want. You can do as much fitness as you want,” he said. “But you can only really get in game fitness but playing in games. You might think you’re in shape, but then you get tossed out there in the game and it’s completely different. That’s the biggest thing, just getting in match shape and being ready to play.”
While the leap to the pro ranks has come with obstacles and been difficult at times, Forrest credits his teammates for helping him settle in. Even with his time spent away from the club, he’s comfortable with those around him and continues to build chemistry with the group.
“The guys are great,” he said. “I can’t complain about any of them. We have fun but as soon as we’re on the field, it’s also very serious at the same time. It’s a good mix of lightheartedness and seriousness.”