Coming Home: Robbie Mertz returning to the Riverhounds SC

Photo courtesy of Ed Thompson

We promised to have some “good news” from Riverhounds SC today.

In fact, the club have announced that they have reached a transfer agreement with Atlanta United II to bring back midfielder and Pittsburgh native Robbie Mertz to the Hounds.

The transfer will be completed subject to USL and US Football Association approvals.

Mertz, 25, has spent the last year and a half with Atlanta after signing there as a free agent ahead of the 2021 season. In 48 games with Atlanta, Mertz scored four goals and had 11 assists. His five assists last year led the team, and with six this season he sits fourth in the USL championship.

Along with new teammates Kenardo Forbes (seven assists) and Alex Dixon (six), the Hounds now have three players in the league’s top five in this statistic.

“I am grateful to the club. They graciously allowed me to take the opportunity in Atlanta and while I didn’t achieve my goal of making the MLS team, I learned a lot down there as a person and as a leader at Atlanta United II,” Mertz said .

“When I was presented with the opportunity to leave Atlanta, I just felt there was work to be done in Pittsburgh. I have a lot of friends, fans, people in Pittsburgh and I felt a certain loyalty to the club. Sometimes in this game it’s too much business and people forget about humanity. It’s good to be back with my friends and family and we’re going to fight really hard for a championship.”

A graduate of Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, Mertz played college football in Michigan before being drafted by the Colorado Rapids in the fourth round of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

Mertz joined the Hounds after being released from the Rapids and had two very productive seasons in Pittsburgh. As a rookie in 2019, he had six goals and four assists and helped the team capture first place in the Eastern Conference. He continued producing through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, scoring five goals and four assists in just 16 games as the Hounds returned to the playoffs.

“Robbie was a very important player for us throughout the 2019 and 2020 seasons and has continued to develop into one of the most versatile and complete midfielders in the league,” said head coach Bob Lilley. “He’s competitive, tech-savvy and understands our system. His energy and ideas make him dangerous in attacking moments and we are happy to have him back on the team representing the Steel City.”

Mertz returned to training with the Hounds this week and will play with the Hounds against Hartford Athletic on July 23. His first chance to perform in front of his hometown crowd comes on July 30 when the Hounds host Tulsa at 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium.

Instant Analysis: Impact of Robbie Mertz Transfer

Robbie Mertz has evolved as a player at Atlanta United 2 over the past season and a half, honing his leadership and playmaking skills.

There’s no doubt he’ll be a welcome addition to the Riverhounds’ current roster and rotation.

What this does now is give a competitive team and its head coach, Bob Lilley, additional option for veterans and significant depth to central midfield rotation.

Mertz will return to central midfield alongside Kenardo Forbes and Danny Griffin. This could likely see some other players with changing roles. Dani Rovira, who has played more in central midfield this season, is likely to switch to full-back or winger rotation, while Luis Argudo, who hasn’t played that much in recent weeks, is likely to be dropped from central midfield rotation image, and essentially becomes an option off the bench or a starter if Russ Cicerone and Alex Dixon need a night off. Angelo Kelly-Rosales is also another player who can be an important part of central midfield rotation but will likely only see point starts and could be a defensive sub late in games when the Hounds are ahead.

Additionally, Mertz brings another level of leadership and continuity as he will return to play alongside Griffin and Forbes. That’s a central midfield that’s even more dangerous with Griffin and Mertz’s continued growth and understanding of USL championship-level football over the past two seasons.

As the Hounds look to finish top of the table and win the USL Cup in October and November, the addition of Robbie Mertz will give them another battle-hardened presence and a player who will be determined to help guide his hometown club to the league title .

John Krysinsky has reported on football and other sports for various publications and media for many years. He is also the author of ‘Miracle on the Mon’ – a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC that chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium, with the narrative that led to a remarkable game that helped create a spark to produce, and this revolved around for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports and Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as a color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast crews for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup games across the United States together . Krysinsky also served as head men’s soccer coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to their first-ever wins and playoffs of the season (1996-98); North Catholic Boys head coach (2007-08), Shady Side Academy Boys assistant head coach (2009-2014).

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