3 questions heading into Reno 1868 FC's second season
As Reno 1868 FC prepares to embark on their 2nd season in the biggest little city, there is a few question marks as to what the team's output will be.
1. Can History repeat itself?
Last season, Reno set a USL record for the most goals scored in a single season with 75. This high powered offense is a culmination of Ian Russell's emphasis on developing great forwards and strikers. Russell has sold several players on his club because of his offensive success in the teams inaugural season. Reno is deep in that position with returning players like Brian Brown and Antoine Hoppenot and adding Jerry Van Ewijk, Guy Abend, and Christian Thierjung.
2. No Dane Kelly, Chris Wehan or Matt LaGrassa?
This is where the addition of Jerry Van Ewijk, Guy Abend, and Christian Thierjung comes into play.
Abend joins Reno from Louisville FC, who just won the 2017 USL Cup in October. “Guy is a technical, holding midfielder,” Reno head coach Ian Russell said. “He will bring a physical presence to the game next season. Abend provides a defensive presence recording 30 clearances, 2 blocks and 39 interceptions in 2017. Matt LaGrassa last season recorded 44 clearances, 4 blocks and 96 interceptions. Abend will hope to match that production on the pitch this season.
As for Dane Kelly's "replacement", Antione Hopponot was Reno's co-MVP last season scoring 12 goals. Look for Hop to take a bigger role in the offense and new signee Jerry Van Ewijk to complement the new dynamic duo. Van Ewijk is a speedy midfielder joining Reno after spending one season at Orange County SC where he scored eight goals.
“We’re really excited to have an attacking player like Jerry who has a blend of great pace and technical ability,” Reno head coach Ian Russell said. Van Ewijk comes from a good pedigree playing 8 years with Dutch powerhouse PSV. His first season in the USL came in 2017 where he was involved in 11 goals (eight goals scored, three assists). Expectations are high in the organization for the 25-year-old.
Finally, replacing Chris Wehan won't be easy. The standing USL rookie of the year was signed by the San Jose Earthquakes in the offseason but he could potentially play in Reno again. The Quakes are heavy with midfielders and if the organization wants to keep Wehan's development upward, he could see some playing time again on Russell's roster. In the meantime, look for Christian Thierjung to slide into that striking midfielder position.
Thierjung is a former San Jose Earthquakes draftee that joins Reno 1868 FC after spending time with Tulsa Roughnecks FC last season. “Christian is an attacking-minded midfielder who can play both up top as a forward or in the midfield,” said Reno head coach Ian Russell. Theirjung is the ripe age of 22 and was a four-year standout at Cal scoring 27 goals before he was drafted by the Quakes in the third round of the MLS SuperDraft.
Thierjung also posted a 79-percent pass success rate and was solid defensively recording seven interceptions. Sounds like Wehan already.
3. Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs.
Despite all of the success during the inaugural season, Reno failed to make it out of the first round of the USL playoffs in 2017. It's a thing that's haunted several coaches and players from that roster. Now, this may be insanely early to predict but 1868 FC has 1 very impressive win under their belt this preseason against the Seattle Sounders out of the MLS. Although it was only a 1-0 win in a preseason friendly, Russell's new squad shut down a Sounders team that had Clint Dempsey, Will Bruin and Magnus Wolff Eikrem in their starting 11.
If Russell can help this team find its identity early this season and stay healthy, by the time playoffs roll around in October they will be a scary unit with a chip on their shoulder.