Wednesday, Feb. 9
Back on their home turf and back on the front foot, the Hounds got things rolling again with a bounce-back practice in the nicest weather of this preseason — sunny with temperatures in the 50s.
Passes and crosses that were resulting in turnovers a day ago were finding their targets at a much higher rate today, with the likes of Kenardo Forbes, Dani Rovira and Alex Dixon, along with some of the current trialists, creating good chances and setting up goals aplenty.
With more shots going on target, that provided more work for the four goalkeeping trialists who have been with the team since the outset of camp. Those live-fire moments are important in the evaluation process for Bob Lilley and assistants Michael Behonick and Will Marshall, especially with today’s announcement that the Hounds will have one fewer preseason game than originally expected. That leaves only six games — or twelve halves, considering the likely manner in which they will be divvied up — for the top choices to establish themselves and earn a contract, as Lilley intends to carry three goalkeepers once again.
After practice, Lilley spent a little extra time speaking individually with a few of the trialists, giving some tips for improvement and illustrating what will be needed to make the roster. Meanwhile, recent birthday boy Dixon and strike partner Russell Cicerone got in some extra finishing work shooting at the clubhouse end, as the players all seemed relieved to be (at least temporarily) out of the recent oppressive cold.
Tuesday, Feb. 8
Monday to Tuesday was like day to night for the Hounds — or maybe, more appropriately, sunlight to fluorescent light.
The team moved indoors to the AHN Montour facility for Tuesday’s training session, but that only provided a limited amount of shelter from the cold with construction still continuing around the now-fully installed field. And whether it was the weather or some other reason, practice lacked the sharpness of a day earlier, a point made very clear by Coach Lilley.
Decision making under duress was not at the level the coaching staff expected on this day — the eighth practice of the preseason — as too many turnovers were being made in drills designed to simulate transition opportunities. The issues weren’t isolated to a few players, either, as veterans, Hounds newcomers and trialists alike were subject to criticism.
The practice ran over the scheduled two hours, as Lilley hoped to get a spark from his players. Some bright moments eventually came in the final drill, which yielded a trio of nice finishes by trialists and better overall play toward the end, but the final message of the day was to come back sharper tomorrow in what is expected to be a warmer day outdoors.
Monday, Feb. 7
The second week of preseason got off to a rapid start, as warmer weather and a bit more familiarity led to a more crisp workout on Monday.
There was some movement on the player front made official before training, as it was announced that the contract of Ezra Armstrong — who was not with the Hounds during this preseason due to the pending transaction — had been sold to St. Louis City SC for an undisclosed fee.
While one familiar face is officially gone, another was back in action, as Albert Dikwa was a full participant in training after being away during the first week. Dikwa, coming off an injury-marred 2021, looked mobile and active in his first action as he prepares for his third season in Pittsburgh. Other shifts in the practice squad included the introduction of two new trialists to the mix after four others had their time with the team end after Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage.
As for the training session itself, things got more compact again after running the full field over the weekend. First up came a brief warm-up period, followed by some 9-on-9 work with players required to possess the ball beyond midfield before they could distribute wide and attack. That activity gave way to even more bombardment of the goals with a 5-on-3 transition drill.
Having played a full game Saturday and with the good quality of work in today’s session, Bob Lilley brought training to a close just past the 90-minute mark — slightly short of the scheduled two hours.
After practice, the captain, Kenardo Forbes, took the time to chat about his impression of training thus far and how the new players are fitting in with the Hounds.