There wasn’t much time spent on the field on another chilly day, as the Hounds beat the rain in the morning and loaded up the bus for the drive to visit Louisville City FC for a 3 p.m. preseason kickoff tomorrow.
The brief training session was mostly a walkthrough, with some crossing and finishing in an environment that was decidedly low-intensity relative to a usual training session.
By noon, the players had loaded up the bus — some with pillows and blankets in hand — and they pulled away for the trip down Interstates 70 and 71 across Ohio and into Kentucky’s largest city, where the Hounds have had some success with four regular-season wins since Louisville joined the league in 2015.
That history should have little bearing on tomorrow’s match, as both teams are still ironing out their 2021 plans. The match is Louisville’s last of the preseason, as they open at home on April 24 against Atlanta United 2, while the Hounds still have three weeks to the highly anticipated trip to face Tampa Bay.
Whether it was the weather turning breezy and brisk or a desire to be on and off the field quickly, the Hounds didn't take their full two hours on the field, as was scheduled.
Once they were out there, the workouts were mostly contained to tighter quarters, with players moving the ball around quickly in short-sided and small-spaced drills emphasizing precision in the narrow confines.
The team did spread out for a short full-field run at the end of practice, one that saw some different pairings in certain positions, such as Todd Wharton partnering Danny Griffin and Anthony Velarde in the center of midfield, and Jelani Peters and Rennico Clarke getting a chance to work together as a central defense pair.
Those newer pairings aren't an indication of any long-term plans, necessarily. The need to get players work in different positions, rest others who might have tired legs, and pair them in assorted combinations all are things the coaches consider when setting up practice. That was just one of the things assistant coach Dan Visser spoke about after training.
The players went through a brisk training session with some game-specific preparation for Saturday's trip to Louisville, but the day's main event was Photo Day.
For some, it was the first time trying on a full Riverhounds uniform, as the players have been wearing practice kits during preseason matches. Players each had headshots and action shots taken, and they got to have fun with some light sit-down video interviews. (It won't be long before the results get seen, but sorry, no spoilers today!)
We got a quick peek at how the action was going in the photo room, with players showing off a bit of their skills for the camera.
Kenardo Forbes has a proven track record in USL, from his time in Rochester straight through to last season’s All-USL team selection, and he again figures to be the pivotal figure in the midfield for the Hounds.
“Demand the ball,” head coach Bob Lilley instructed his Jamaican veteran during training, as the team drilled on goal-front situations on both sides of the ball.
Lilley’s direction came after trialist center back Jelani Peters dribbled his way away from pressure during the close-quarters exercise, as the coach wants his defenders looking for the feet of Forbes and the other midfield players to transition quickly to attack.
Defense being a hallmark of Lilley’s teams, he also wants them to be fast moving to attack and just as clinical in front of the opponents goal as their own. That accounted for field setup forcing all the action into the a 30-yard window in front of goal, with a free “neutral zone” for the sides to transition through once the ball had been turned over.
The result of the field setup was some bang-bang plays in front of the net and a good workout for the goalkeepers, as well, as the Hounds look to improve situational play — alleviating pressure on their own back line being an area of focus after withstanding plenty of attacking by FC Cincinnati last Saturday.
Training will continue to roll on into the 10th practice of the season tomorrow, while the team is also scheduled for its photo day after Wednesday’s session, another sign the season is drawing closer.
Practice resumed like normal for the third week of preseason, and the pace of Saturday’s preseason match against FC Cincinnati seemed to have some carryover.
Striker Albert Dikwa, who scored his second goal in three preseason matches, elaborated on the increased pace of play and how the Hounds want to escalate the speed at which they perform.
“I think that was a very good test. At the beginning, that was a very tough game because the speed of play, the quality that the MLS players have. … I want to say I enjoy it, and I do enjoy it, playing against good players, but it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice, having to be there for your teammates,” Dikwa said.
While the Hounds came out victorious in Cincinnati, the players aren’t letting the final score cloud the fact that the hosts created more chances and easily could have turned the scoreline the other way.
The team, as a whole, is trying to keep the speed up while eliminating mistakes on the ball, which are still more common than the coaching staff would like. While that is to be expected just two weeks into training, that doesn’t diminish the urgency of being less than four weeks away from the season opener.
Meanwhile, Dikwa personally is trying to become a more efficient finisher entering his second year with the Hounds. As the only true forward returning from a year ago, the striker from Cameroon has an opportunity to solidify himself as a fixture atop the Hounds attack.
“I’ve been working hard during the offseason. I’m hungry this season. With the expectations that the coach has given us, which are very, very high, I feel like I should be doing better than two goals,” Dikwa said. “My role changed a lot, and the coach expects more from me than last year. It’s my second year, and I don’t want to be cocky, but the expectation is on me to be a leader in front, and I will try my best to help the team and make him proud.”
This week will be the first resembling a regular match week for the Hounds, as the team will train through the week until a short session Friday, after which they will board the bus for Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff at Louisville City FC.