Boosted by their performances last week in Orlando, both Anthony Arena and Jason Johnson will start again this week when the Pittsburgh Riverhounds travel to Richmond.
It's been a busy week for both players as they adjust to life in Pittsburgh. I had a chance to speak with manager Justin Evans who said both guys have been working hard in training this week. They've had the chance to practice outdoors and continue to work on their defensive responsibilities, chemistry and partnerships.
Anthony was named to the USL Pro team of the week based on his strong defensive performance against the high-powered Orlando attack. He will again play CB alongside Hounds skipper Andrew Marshall. Evans complimented Anthony's professionalism, citing his ability to acclimate himself into the team so quickly. "It was a short turnaround for those guys. They arrived on Monday, practiced indoors on Tuesday and Wednesday before getting outside on Thursday. We knew that Orlando would bring pressure so we worked on our defense shape. Anthony did a great job for us," stated Evans.
Jason Johnson didn't quite have the same impact as Arena last week, but he brings something unique to the team. "He is a dynamic striker. He is so fast, he can really stretch the defense. It's not something we have on this team," explained the manager. The Hounds have a lot of depth up top, but right now most of them are nursing injuries. Former Fulham star Collins John is about 85% while Jhonny Arteaga and Jospeh Ngwenya are still a week or two away from full fitness. JJ has an opportunity to get significant playing time here early on and convince the gaffer he should be playing alongside Jose Angulo. I asked Justin Evans about the possibility of Johnson playing on the wing once everyone was back in contention, and while he did say that it was a possibility he was very clear that he liked Johnson as a striker.
Bryan Salazar made his debut in Orlando as well. Evans had this to say about Salazar: "He's a good player when we have the ball. He needs to work on his fitness and defending. We need our forwards to be the first line of defense."
Michael Lisch arrived in Pittsburgh this week and will make the trip to Richmond as well. He'll be backing up keeper Greg Blum who replaced the injured Hunter Gilstrap last Saturday night. Hunter was diagnosed with a concussion and had surgery this week on a fractured zygomatic arch. He'll be out of action for 4-6 weeks. Talking to Evans, Blum will get the chance to establish himself as the starter. However, Lisch has really made an impression on the coaching staff and his teammates this week. At one point near the end of practice, Lisch stopped four PKs in a row to the amazement of Collins John. "Coach, we need to sign this guy," said the experienced forward. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if this loan will be permanent. Of course, if Lisch wrestles the starting job away form Blum it may be beneficial to have him stay in Pittsburgh where he'll get games.
Brian Ownby should arrive in Pittsburgh next week. With the depth of the team and maestro Matt Dallman a lock at right midfield, Dallman could find himself playing on the left or in the middle. "We're not really locked into a 4-4-2. I prefer to play a 4-4-2 but with this team and this talent, we've got a lot of options," explained Evans.
After the way we played last week in Orlando and the fact that Anthony and JJ had a good week of practice, I am very optimistic going into Richmond. I will go on record and say it will be disappointing if we don't come home with at least 1 point. This is by far the deepest and most talented team Pittsburgh has seen since they played in the old A-League back in 1999.