Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC supporters will get their first look at the Hounds this season when they host Hartford Athletic on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Delaney Hoolahan / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
PITTSBURGH – As a young Pittsburgh native coming up through the local soccer scene, Robbie Mertz regularly visited Highmark Stadium after its opening in 2013 to watch Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
This Saturday night, however, the Hounds’ rookie is hoping he’ll get the chance to be on the field rather than in the stands as the club hosts Hartford Athletic for its 2019 home opener.
“I’ve been to quite a few games growing up so just to be here on the team now, potentially with a chance to get on the field on Saturday, it would be amazing at the home opener,” said Mertz. “I’m just really thankful and really blessed to be here.”
Mertz made his professional debut this past Saturday as a second-half substitute in Pittsburgh’s 1-0 victory against Louisville City FC at Slugger Field. Picking up the club’s first win of the season – and its first shutout – to wrap up its four-game road trip to start 2019 was a solid boost to the side’s confidence as it looks to return to the heights it reached a season ago.
Having posted a league-best 17 clean sheets in the 2018 regular season, getting back to the fundamentals that made the Hounds one of the toughest teams to beat in the Championship a season ago was a major focus going into the Louisville game. Holding their hosts to only one shot on goal was a move in the right direction as far as the Hounds were concerned.
“We conceded a lot of goals in the first three games of the season, so we had to work on our defense a lot,” said second-year defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele. “We worked well in our last game against Louisville, which is a big team. We’re happy we did that but need to keep working to make sure that we have a strong defense like last season.”
While Mertz is looking forward to getting the chance to play at Highmark Stadium, he and the rest of the team should benefit from the installation of upgraded turf for the new season. Now entering its seventh season, the Hounds’ home continues to be one of the most scenic venues in the Championship, and the players believe the new surface should help the product on the field match the view over the Monongahela River.
“It should be nice on the new turf,” said Mertz. “It’s a good surface for passing and receiving the ball. The other thing is just knowing where we’re going to go with it and making sure we take survey of our surroundings and knowing where we’re going to go with the ball next.”
A Pittsburgh native, Robbie Mertz will get his first chance to take to the field at Highmark Stadium this Saturday in Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC's home opener. | Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Add in the first chance to play in front of the Steel Army and the rest of the Hounds fans since the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the players are certainly eager for Saturday to arrive.
“We’re so excited to come back here,” said Vancaeyezeele. “It’s been kind of hard to play without our fans and stuff. We’re happy to get back here now.”