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Hounds Notebook: New additions provide roster of budding players with plenty to prove

After skipping the wonky fifth week of the preseason, the only one with multiple games, Hounds Notebook returns at the end of week six, just as the club announced seven new additions to its roster ahead of the season opener in a little more than a week.

The Hounds announced the additions of seven players who have been with the team for most of preseason as non-roster invitees: Michael DeShields, Jonanthan Gomes, Junior Etou, Burke Fahling, Tony Lopez, Tola Showunmi and DZ Harmon.

The week and the preseason will conclude on Saturday with one last friendly, this time at Highmark Stadium against USL Championship rival, Louisville City FC (2 p.m. kickoff).

Next week, the Hounds will go into preparation mode for the season opener against the team they defeated in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year, the Birmingham Legion FC.

More on DZ Harmon

Earlier on Thursday, the Hounds announced the addition of rookie goalkeeper Jonathan Gomes, but later, they also introduced DZ Harmon, who is an interesting addition, as a one-year deal with a contract option for 2024. The deal is pending USL and U.S. Soccer approval.

Harmon is yet another example of a player with a few years of pro experience, who has probably not reached his full potential, but will likely get a chance to do so in Pittsburgh.

Lilley has filled the roster with players in the 23-to-26 year old age range, some with a year or two of pro experience, but just may be hitting their peak.

Harmon, 26, played his first two professional seasons in 2021-22 with the Charleston Battery, where he made 54 appearances and had two goals and five assists with the Hounds’ longtime Eastern Conference rivals.

“DZ adds pace and power in wide areas and is very good in 1v1 situations. His ability to defend in our system will also be important to the team, and we feel he will be a great addition for the 2023 USL Championship season,” Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley said.

A native of Monrovia, Liberia, Harmon played three years of college soccer at Coastal Carolina University from 2018-20. During his time with the Chanticleers, Harmon earned Second Team All-Sun Belt honors in 2019 and led the team to a Sun Belt regular season title in 2020.

Harmon’s first college season was with Clayton State University in 2017, where in a more attacking role, he scored eight goals in his lone season before transferring. He also played three seasons for the Atlanta Silverbacks (now Atlanta SC) in the National Premier Soccer League as an amateur from 2017-19.

Depth Chart Breakdown and initial thoughts on new additions

In a matter of a couple days, the Hounds finally announced a handful of player signings that brought the total number of players on the roster to 21 signed and ready to go for the 2023 season.

There could always been more additions to come (last year, Jahmali Waite was signed right before the first game and both Robbie Mertz and Edward Kizza came on at the season’s midway point).

Here’s the breakdown by position:

  • Goalkeepers: Jahmali Waite, Christian Garner, Jonathan Gomes
  • Defenders: Arturo Ordóñez, Pat Hogan, Nate Dossantos, Michael DeShields, Luke Biasi, Joe Farrell
  • Midfielders: Dani Rovira, Marc Ybarra, Robbie Mertz, Kenardo Forbes, Junior Etou, Burke Fahling. DZ Harmon
  • Forwards: Albert Dikwa, Edward Kizza, Langston Blackstock, Tony Lopez, Tola Showunmi

Taking a closer look at the additions, USL Championship veteran Junior Etou was the most glaring of the trio signed on Tuesday, as someone who will likely step into the starting lineup.

In the preseason, the former Tampa Bay Rowdies and Charlotte Independence midfielder has been wearing number eight (8) and positioned in the deep, holding midfield spot, mostly patrolled by Danny Griffin in the previous three seasons for the Hounds.  As Bob Lilley indicated, Etou’s ability in recoveries and holding down the middle earned him a spot on this roster.

The additions of Showunmi, Lopez and Harmon give the Hounds more attacking options, as they’ll look to replace the loss of production when Russell Cicerone and Alex Dixon moved on in the offseason.

Of those three, it might be Harmon who has more experience in USLC, to get the nod to find some early season starts. Lilley is looking for more dynamic play in the attack with key runs through the lines, to get behind defenders — but also be a playmaker on the out wide.

It will be interesting to see if he can become someone who could grow into a goal scoring option too.  Lilley has often said they’re more dangerous teams when a lot of guys contributing to the goal scoring mix.

Burke Fahling is another player that fits into the mold of a player that can give Lilley plenty of tactical flexibility, as he could be used wide or in other midfield spots, as shown here burying a shot from outside the box.

The tactical options are always going to be fluid on a game-to-game basis, as there are a number of players who can slide between different positiions.

Dani Rovira, entering his fifth season in Pittsburgh, along with Fahling are likely to be the two who will move around the most.

All four center backs could be utilized in some games, while it’s more likely that Lilley will go with any combination of three of them.

The forward depth will also be important, as Lilley’s system demands that the forwards are working constantly and covering a lot of ground.  With Albert Dikwa being held out of preseason games, it’s likely that he won’t be ready to start the season, so likely Kizza and some of the new guys will be thrusted into the spotlight.

Leading the way will be returning veterans Kenardo Forbes and Robbie Mertz in the midfield, but Joey Farrell, who played for Lilley previously in Rochester should also be a valued experienced presence along the back line in his first season in Pittsburgh.  The group of players entering into year two in Pittsburgh, Marc Ybarra, Luke Biasi and Nathan Dossantos, with another season under their belts of playing in Lilley’s system, will likely be counted on even more.

Here’s a preliminary look at a potential depth chart for the Hounds ahead of the final preseason match.

With another season about to start, it will probably take the first three to four games to see how the player rotation starts to shake out.  It’s also a long season, and players who start in back-up spots or role positions, could emerge as the season evolves.  That’s especially true with this group as competition for playing time will be intense, as this is clearly a group of players who have a lot to prove at this level.

USL Championship renews with ESPN; Hounds shut out on National TV schedule

The USL Championship announced on Thursday night, they’ll be partnering with ESPN again.

All matches will be shown on its streaming service ESPN+.  Pittsburgh Soccer Now has also reached out to Riverhounds SC officials to find out if there will once again be a local broadcast deal.  An announcement is expected to come prior to the start of the season, which kicks off for the Hounds with road games at Birmingham on March 11 and Memphis on March 18.

In the past three years, the Riverhounds local broadcast deal has included games aired on 22 The Point.

Plus, the USL also announced that there will be nine matches between The Championship and League One to be broadcast live on ESPN 2.

The Riverhounds SC won’t be featured in any of these games.

The USL will be the only U.S. domestic professional soccer on the ESPN networks, bringing fans all 620 games of the 2023 USL Championship and USL League One campaigns – regular season and playoffs – LIVE on ESPN+ or an ESPN television network.

This marks the eighth season that ESPN is the USL’s exclusive national media partner.

Here’s the ESPN 2 schedule:

May 13 – Louisville City FC vs. Miami FC, 7 p.m. ET
July 1 – Phoenix Rising FC vs. Memphis 901 FC, 11 p.m. ET
July 15 – Monterey Bay F.C. vs. Oakland Roots SC, 10 p.m. ET
July 19 – Detroit City FC vs. Louisville City FC, 7 p.m. ET
Aug. 9 – Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC vs. FC Tulsa, 9 p.m. ET
Aug. 16 – San Antonio FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC, 9 p.m. ET
Aug. 19 – San Diego Loyal SC vs. New Mexico United, 9:30 p.m. ET
Nov. 5 – USL League One Final, 8:30 p.m. ET
Nov. 12 – USL Championship Final, 9 p.m. ET

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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