When Russell Cicerone signed with the Riverhounds before the 2021 season, he was regarded as a talented forward who was just starting to hit his stride as a pro in the previous two seasons with Saint Louis FC.
Fast-forward to about 18 months later, and Cicerone has established himself as a full-fledged finisher with 27 goals for the Hounds. His total — 16 in 2021 and 11 so far this season — already goes down as one of the best two-year scoring runs in team history, and it could end up being the best by season’s end.
Here is how the Michigan-born forward’s numbers stack up with the best in team history:
Based purely off goal total, the best two-year stretch by any Hounds striker was that of the first target man in the Bob Lilley era, Neco Brett.
Brett scored 34 goals in all competitions during the 2018 and ’19 seasons in Pittsburgh, and the team’s success during those seasons — third- and first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference — makes his run the gold standard. The Jamaican forward was also consistent with totals of 15 and 19 goals, respectively, showing he was no one-year wonder.
But Brett also had the advantage of some additional games Cicerone did not.
Two of Brett’s 2019 total came in a U.S. Open Cup win over the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL League Two, and he also had the unforgettable four-goal performance in a rainy playoff win over Birmingham Legion in that year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Cicerone, on the other hand, did not have the benefit of cup play or a playoff run in 2021, and played only one cup game this season, the team’s extra-time loss at MLS club FC Cincinnati. Counting only regular-season league goals, Brett’s advantage shrinks to 28-27.
The two also are remarkably similar in the assists category — Brett had 12; Cicerone has 11 — showing how both are all-around catalysts for the attack in Lilley’s system.
Are there any other contenders? Let’s take a glance.
• Apart from Cicerone and Brett, the only other player to record consecutive double-digit goal seasons for the Hounds was Corey Hertzog in 2016-17. His 27 goals — the same number as Cicerone currently — still rank him sixth in club history, and no one will deny his effectiveness leading the Hounds’ line.
Hertzog, however, didn’t have the team success of the other two and only finished with six assists in his two seasons. While he was a tireless worker up front and, quite possibly, was doing more with less around him, it is hard to put his two-year run ahead of the other two with just 14 wins to show for it.
• What about the team’s all-time leading scorer, David Flavius? His 62 goals are a record that has stood for a long time, but he did it over an eight-year span.
Flavius’ best two-year span came in 2004-05, when he scored 23 goals. But 15 of those came in the team’s 2004 season, when the club first dropped from the A-League (second division) to the USL Pro Soccer League (third division). The Hounds reached the league semifinals in 2004, but the next season saw them miss the playoffs altogether.
• The Hounds also have had two league MVPs, Thiago Martins (2003 A-League) and José Angulo (2013 USL Pro).
Martins scored 31 goals with the Hounds, and he had the team’s best single season with 23 goals in 26 overall matches to win MVP. But four of his other eight goals with the team came in a single 2002 game against the Cincinnati Railhawks, making him more of a single-season standout. Angulo, meanwhile, had 15 goals in his MVP year but only eight the next, putting him a handful behind the leading contenders.
• And while not an MVP, Rob Vincent did post a memorable 21-goal season in 2015. But the midfielder had scored just four the season before in a more holding role, and the next year, he was signed by DC United a season after scoring against the MLS team in the cup.
Considering all those factors, it’s pretty clear after looking at the numbers that Cicerone is in the midst of one of the best two-season stretches in the Hounds’ long history.
With 10 games remaining and the playoffs in 2022, the only question remaining now is how many more Cicerone can add to his nearly unprecedented two-year tally.