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The Cheetah is Back: Christiano François on returning to Highmark

Christiano François
The Cheetah is Back: Christiano François is coming back to Pittsburgh on Saturday with his new team, Ottawa Fury. Photo courtesy of Rachael McKriger/Pittsburgh Soccer Now.

Pittsburgh, Pa. — You’ll need to look twice when he runs past you.

Christiano François is coming back to Highmark Stadium on Saturday and bringing his signature speed with him. The 25-year-old Haitian,  recognizable by his blonde tips of his hair and physical play on the pitch, spent the 2018 season with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. However, this past offseason, he was traded north of the border to the Ottawa Fury.

François has fond memories of Pittsburgh, where he made 32 appearances and scored four goals. He’s excited to come back to the city and see his former teammates, whom he grew close with last season.

“I am super excited to come back and play against my former team,” François said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

François still talks to plenty of the players on Pittsburgh’s roster, who returned from last season. Mouhamed Dabo is a close friend of François. However, the two won’t compete against each other on Saturday, due to Dabo’s hamstring injury.

“We were good friends there,” François says about Dabo. “We still keep a good connection. I talk to a couple of the other guys, so we all still speak. It’s going to be a good game. When I was in training there, the players were always tough but could compliment my game.”

On the other side of the pitch

François said he’s excited for the challenge of playing against his former defensive teammates.

He called out Jordan Dover, Tobi Adewole, Ryan James and Joe Greenspan as some of the best defenders throughout the USL Championship. While Dover will be out on Saturday — he’s currently with the Guyana Men’s National Team and preparing for the Gold Cup — François will have the opportunity to feature against the other defenders.

“When you play those guys for a year, even for a short time, you know how they will play,” François said. “Because I’m a winger, I always compete with good defenders. You have to make sure you’re ready to compete against good defenders. It’s going to be just like all the other games we’re playing. I’m going to go there and show that I play well and help my team to win. That’s how it goes.”

François says that he’s ready to give Pittsburgh a tough match.

“I’m ready and we’ve been preparing for the week,” he said. “I’m ready to compete against Pittsburgh and the defenders.”

A good relationship with Lilley and Pittsburgh

Despite not wearing a Pittsburgh uniform anymore, François has an immense amount of respect for the players, city and the coaches. Bob Lilley coached François in 2017, when he was part of the Rochester Rhinos. Liking what he saw from the Haitian, Lilley brought him to Pittsburgh.

François says that Lilley gave him a chance to showcase his talents.

“I will always be grateful to him for that,” François said. “I needed someone at the time to believe in me. He made me a better player because of how he and [now former Riverhounds assistant coach] Mark Pulisic coach. They played a good role in my career in Rochester. Moving to Pittsburgh was a good experience. I already knew how Bob played and how he wanted me to play. It was fun and he wasn’t so hard to play for. It was nice to have a good season there.”

François says that he and Lilley are still in touch, too.

“My relationship with Bob on and off the field has always been good,” François said.

Lilley isn’t the only person in Pittsburgh that François is excited to see. From the moment he was signed, Pittsburgh Riverhounds fans and the Steel Army welcomed him with open arms. François said he was flooded with messages of support on social media before even touching the pitch for a match at Highmark Stadium.

“They talked to me and welcomed me to the team through my social media account,” François said. “They always were supportive of me. The fans would always talk about the city to me, how to get around and what there is to do. It’s very supportive there. I’m lucky and happy to come back and see them.”

François said it’s nice to return to Pittsburgh with no pressure on his shoulders.

“I’m just excited to go on the field and help my team.”

The sport of soccer is Rachael Kriger's area of expertise. Kriger covers Steel City FC for Pittsburgh Soccer Now and provides various columns, with occasional work with Pitt Women's Soccer. Elsewhere, Kriger is the co-managing editor of Last Word on Soccer and the social media coordinator and lead Liga MX Femenil writer for Equalizer Soccer. She is a member of the official NWSL Media Association and the North American Soccer Reporters, serving as the NASR's Vice President after two years in the role of Communications Director.

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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