Affiliation: Columbus Crew SC
2015 Record, place in the standings: 11-9-8, 5th Eastern Conference
2015 Playoffs: Knocked out in the First Round
Key Additions: Corey Hertzog, Zak Boggs, Marshall Hollingsworth(on loan from Columbus), Ben Swanson(on loan from Columbus)
Key Departures: Robbie Vincent, Ryan Thompson, Anthony Arena, Tyler Pasher
In 2015 the Pittsburgh Riverhounds started the era of head coach Mark Steffens by reaching the playoffs, a fantastic achievement after coming out of the bankruptcy that previous summer. The team scored more goals - 53 - than all but two other teams in the league, and played in some of the most entertaining matches of the season. Rob Vincent's performances and 18 goals were massive for the club, and ultimately good enough for him to land a transfer to DC United in MLS.
The 2016 season presents a ton of questions for Steffens and his coaching staff, not least of which is how to replace Vincent's goals. The Riverhounds were plagued all season by set-piece goals, and rectifying that could prove to be a major difference in whether they can reach the playoffs or even go further this season. The Riverhounds did move into their year-round training facility this past off-season, and this has allowed the club, at all levels, to have a more sustained focus on the upcoming season, as well as to build the all-important team chemistry on the pitch.
Why you should watch Pittsburgh in 2016: Despite losing players like Vincent and defensive ace Anthony Arena, there are enough core players from Steffens's first season in charge to keep the momentum going. With the team always having a desire to push forward looking for goal, there is always the chance for fireworks. Even when the lights are about to be turned out in the stadium, don't count the Hounds out. Last year's epic 6-5 comeback against Harrisburg was the highlight of the season, and reason enough for any fan to always stay in their seat until the final whistle.
3 Players to Watch:
Kevin Kerr: Kerr's uncanny ability to find himself in dangerous positions last season will need to continue this year. If he can start to apply a more clinical eye in front of goal, then the blow of Vincent's departure might not be so big.
Lebo Moloto: Moloto was a frustrating player for most of 2015, but the final third of the season saw him click into gear. His blistering pace and clever feet caused many defenders nightmares but as with Kerr, an uptick in end product needs to accompany the scary skills he displayed at the end of the year.
Corey Hertzog: Hertzog is one of the new faces on the Riverhounds team this year, but his goal-scoring ability in college, when he led the NCAA in 2010 with 20 goals, gives hope that the Hounds may have found a consistent source of offense up front.
The 2016 season will be a success if... The Riverhounds continue evolving under Steffens. Last year saw too many stretches of patchy displays that were often saved by the feet of Vincent and Kerr. This year's team has to show a more consistent approach to finding the balance between attack and defense. If that balance can't be struck, then the Hounds will find themselves once again drifting in and out of the playoff picture.