(Editor’s note: Due to Friday’s winter weather, there will be no update for Feb. 4. The blog will be back in action Monday to kick off Week 2 — the first game week of preseason!)
Thursday, Feb. 3
Steady, cold rain led to a slightly abridged practice (and with it, an abridged blog entry for today!) It also meant the coaching staff wanted to keep the players moving to stay warm.
That meant breaking out an old standard among Hounds team drills. Using a full-width field barely 35 yards in length, and each team with two mini-goals to score in — one on the left and one on the right — the Hounds had the full roster of players working on quick ball movement and being able to change the point of attack with two goals to score in.
The coaching staff once again pressed the players to see some more aggressive ball-winning and a faster pace of play as they continued to build toward the week-ending scrimmage, and the flashes of competitiveness were there in the team drill.
Training wound down for the day with a brief passing and shooting drill. That allowed the players to stretch out and swing away after a brisk, compact session, and it gave the four goalkeeping trialists an opportunity to face some shots in a rapid-fire setting.
Wednesday, Feb. 2
Whether the groundhog saw his shadow or not today (he did), we knew we were getting six weeks of preseason.
Wednesdays are often a light day or off day once game weeks roll around, it was a full-bore practice day during this opening week of camp. And while many of the drills and points of emphasis were a continuation of the first two days, this practice ended unlike the first two, as the players got the chance to open up and play a full-field scrimmage for the final 20 minutes of the session.
It was only an abbreviated game setting with some pauses for coaching moments, but it did yield one highlight, courtesy of Dani Rovira. The fourth-year Hound has bounced between many positions over his career, but his high-energy play has made him valuable and helps set the tone in a practice setting. For his goal, Rovira again made a sound play from a holding midfielder role to move forward into space, and he struck the finish well from the top of the box. (In case you missed it, Dani joined the blog earlier this week for a full interview, which can be seen under Monday’s entry.)
After practice, coach Bob Lilley took about 10 minutes to address his players, and while things weren’t all negative, he pointed out to the group that the overall intensity wasn’t turned up to the level he expects. From trialists to players under contracts searching for starting roles, Lilley said he wants to see more urgency from his group in the next two days of practice and on Saturday, when the team will have a full intrasquad scrimmage.
The only other “drama” of Wednesday’s session was a post-practice search for a lost ball — not an uncommon occurrence, but one made more difficult due to the mounds of snow stacked around the field. When the missing ball was finally recovered from in the Paul Child Stand, behind where the netminders do their individual work, captain Kenardo Forbes shared a playfully frustrated accusation: “It’s always the goalkeepers losing them!”
To that, we say: Better there than going in the nets behind them.
Tuesday, Feb. 1
Some warmer temperatures seemed to add life to the second practice session of the new season, and the attacking mindset being pushed on Day 1 continued to be a point of emphasis.
In a practice centered around short-sided drills and transition attacking, the Hounds used the full width of the field to create running lanes, 2-on-1 situations and scoring chances, giving both the attacking players and goalkeepers plenty of activity.
One of coach Bob Lilley‘s teaching moments during the day’s drills came with newcomer William Eyang. Despite being a 6-foot-2 forward who looks at home in front of the net, Lilley spent some time encouraging his new forward to be less stationary and make more decisive runs — even if it’s a run that doesn’t get him open, the coach explained, it could cause a defender to follow him open a gap for the next runner to bolt through.
It wasn’t only forwards putting in work. Defenders had their chances to get forward, as both Mekeil Williams and Robby Dambrot found opportunities to move into gaps and put shots on target.
The constant refrains in the early stages of preseason have been to get forward and create dangerous situations. Certainly, that stems from wanting to build a potent attack from the outset of this season and avoid a slow start. But it also comes from wanting the Hounds’ attackers to put their defensive counterparts to the test with only nine more practices until the preseason opener.
Monday, Jan. 31
No, you’re not imagining things. It’s still January, there’s snow on the ground, but the Hounds are already back on the field!
The first training session of 2022 saw the Hounds’ players under contract sharing the field with more than a dozen trialists — including four at the goalkeeper position — as head coach Bob Lilley and staff began laying the groundwork in a six-week build-up to the season opener in Memphis on March 12.
With mounds of snow standing more than five feet behind each goal on the freshly plowed Highmark Stadium turf, assistant coach Dan Visser started off the action leading players through warm-ups and some quick-touch drills about 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. Because of the weather and being the first practice, the coaches made sure to build up from a slower starting pace to prevent injury and get players’ feet wet, but it wasn’t long before the intensity took a jump for the second hour of training.
As per usual, the team did plenty of work in short-sided and half-field situations, and the season was barely 60 minutes old before Lilley could be heard exhorting his players to make more aggressive runs and try to get behind the defenses.
Hounds captain Kenardo Forbes, who like Lilley is entering his fifth season in Pittsburgh, was his usual sharp self distributing the ball from the center of the park. USL Championship veterans Dane Kelly, Robby Dambrot and Angelo Kelly-Rosales all got their first taste of training under their new coach, and Kelly-Rosales quickly got an earful for playing a square ball rather than the sort of attacking pass through Lilley was looking for.
Russell Cicerone, the Hounds leading scorer a year ago with 16 goals, had some springs on him as the crosses began coming toward goal. He elevated to win an early header, missing just wide, but a short time later, he rose again and this time hit the mark. Dani Rovira also notched a nice finish when the defense allowed him room to cut inside toward goal and he took the space, a move that Lilley praised.
Rovira, who first came to Pittsburgh as a young player out of college at Vermont, is now the second-most-tenured Hounds player behind only Forbes. At the end of the session, the Colombian defender/midfielder stepped inside and shared his thoughts on getting his fourth year with the club started.