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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Hounds go overseas: sign Macedonian defender/midfielder Xhelil Asani

Xhelil Asani - photo courtesy

On Tuesday, the Riverhounds SC announced the signing of defender/midfielder Xhelil Asani to a one-year contract with a club option for the 2021 season, pending USL Championship and USSF approval.

This will be Asani’s first season at the USL Championship level, as he has previously competed professionally in Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia, among other European countries.

“Xhelil is a left-sided player with a good engine and the ability to attack as well as defend,” head coach Bob Lilley said. “He is technically sound and brings a lot of experience from Europe.”

The 24-year-old most recently played one season (2019-20) for SKA Khabarovsk in the Russian Football National League, a second division league. He started two of his five appearances. Before arriving in Russia, he played one campaign (2018-19) for FK Mladost Doboj Kakanj, a top-tier club in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and appeared in 27 matches (26 starts).

Asani had three different stints in North Macedonia’s First League, the country’s top tier of professional soccer. He played for Shkendija during the 2017-18 season, Metalurg during the 2015-16 campaign and Napredok during the 2013-14 season. During these three seasons, he accumulated 30 games played (25 starts) and one goal.

The Kičevo, North Macedonia native also played one season each in the top tiers of Belarus (Torpedo BelAZ), Malta (Pembroke Athleta) and Albania (Bylis).

In his eight-season career, he has totaled 97 games played, 78 starts and two goals.

With the addition of Asani, Riverhounds SC now has 14 players under contract for the 2020 season.

Early Takeaways from Xhelil Asani signing

The one thing we know that Bob Lilley does — is his homework. In signing a player that’s coming from Europe, you better believe that Lilley has thoroughly scouted him.

Having another strong left-footed presence will only add to the number of tactical options. An experienced professional, Asani looks to be yet another in the line of versatile players who Lilley can plug-and-play in multiple positions.  This could be a high-risk, high-reward proposition for the Hounds. Lilley said in the beginning of the off season and reiterated in December that international prospects were definitely going to be an option — and if we were going to sign someone — it would be someone he was pretty sure about. Asani’s video clips show some impressive work as a left back.

Lilley has some players on his roster where he’s had success pulling directly from international waters — including Steevan Dos Santos.

Roster breakdown for 2020 season:

Forwards (3): Steevan Dos Santos, Lukas Fernandes, Mark Forrest

Midfielders (4): Xhelil Asani, Kenardo Forbes, Robbie Mertz, Dani Rovira, Anthony Velarde

Defenders (5): Jordan Dover, Ryan James, Mark Lindstrom, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Tony Walls

Goalkeepers (1): Anthony Mwembia

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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