A week before the Riverhounds kick off their home season at the new Highmark Stadium, they will start their 2013 USL Pro campaign on the road at Richmond.
The Riverhounds have high hopes for this season after a 10th-place finish in the 11-team league last year.
Those aspirations are bolstered by several key offseason signings. Partially because of the lure of the new stadium, Riverhounds CEO and midfielder Jason Kutney said this was one of the most successful offseasons in franchise history. At the end of last year, the coaches and front office identified six players they wanted to sign, and the franchise landed all six.
According to Kutney, the stadium allowed the Riverhounds to sign players they never would have been able to sign otherwise.
"This offseason's been like no other that I've had since I took over as head coach," Riverhounds coach Justin Evans said last month.
Most notably, the Riverhounds added Colombian forward Jhonny Arteaga, who led the USL Pro in goals playing for FC New York in 2011, and spent last season in MLS with the New York Red Bulls.
Arteaga's acquisition should help offset the loss of Matt Kassel, who signed with the Philadelphia Union of MLS in the offseason after leading the Riverhounds in scoring last year.
The Riverhounds defense will be anchored by Andrew Marshall, who spent the past two seasons with in-state rival Harrisburg.
In the bigger picture, this season could represent a step forward for the Riverhounds' senior team after a few years of de-emphasis.
Kutney said the club had to focus on its youth program the past few years, building up a stable business model to attract investors for Highmark Stadium.
"We focused all of our resources, all of our attention, all of our money on the youth component because that was what was driving the business knowing that, in a few years, it would lead to something like [Highmark Stadium,]" Kutney said.
"I had to just kind of shut my mouth and take a tongue-lashing from [our fans] from time to time knowing that they were right and I wasn't putting the money into them like I should have, but also knowing that if this thing clicked and we would be able to be successful with the stadium, they would have the ultimate thank you."
The Riverhounds return home next weekend for the official soccer debut of the new stadium on the South Side.
Tickets to the home opener have been sold out for months, but tickets for other games can be purchased at riverhounds.com
Matchup: Riverhounds at Richmond Kickers, 7 p.m. today, City Stadium, Richmond, Va.
Riverhounds: Went 6-1 in preseason, including a 1-0 win against USL Pro rival Rochester. ... Offseason was highlighted by the signing of defender Andrew Marshall, midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan, and forward Jhonny Arteaga. ... Finished 10th last season in 11-team USL Pro (4-15-5).
Richmond: Has an affiliation with D.C. United of MLS. ... Holds an all-time record of 14-8-5 against the Riverhounds, dating to 1999. ... Finished last season fourth in USL Pro (11-8-5).
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.