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Pittsburgh soccer media annual Riverhounds, USL Championship predictions (2023)

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC kick off the 2023 campaign Saturday night in Birmingham.

We’ve once again connected with members of the local media who regularly follow the Hounds and the USL scene – to collect their thoughts are on the season ahead.

Thanks to the following folks for responding and providing their insights and feedback on what we might expect to see this coming season and for making their own bold predictions:

· Alex Fydryszewski (Three Rivers Broadcasting)

· Mark Goodman aka ‘SoccerRabbi’ (Pittsburgh Soccer Now )

·Rachael Kriger (Pittsburgh Soccer Now / Last Word on Soccer)

· Matt Popchock (Pittsburgh Soccer Now)

· Amadeo Eichberg (La Mega Media)

· Jordan Smith (Robert Morris University / Pittsburgh Soccer Now)

We’ve asked everyone to address four questions for the 2023 season:

· How many points will the Hounds reach this season and can they make the playoffs?

· Who will be the team’s leading scorer?

· What new player are you most interested in seeing this year?

· Who do you think will win the USL’s Eastern Conference?

1. How many points will the Hounds reach this season and can they make the playoffs?

Rachael Kriger: No matter how much roster turnover or new opponents that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds play, they find a way to make the playoffs. This year will be no different for the Hounds, who are entering year Year No. 6 with Bob Lilley at the helm. Lilley always works his Riverhounds magic and gets the team into the playoffs. It’s always hard, though, to do predictions on a team with so much roster turnover either every year or every two years. However, I think Pittsburgh benefits from being in the Eastern Conference. They’ll finish the season with 20-8-6, with a grand total of 68 points. They’ll be in the Top 5.

Amadeo Eichberg: They will have 5 more points than last year. The team always makes the playoffs under coach Lilley and this year will be no different.

Alex Fydryszewski: 55 points and right above the playoff line.

Mark Goodman: 52 points, and they make the playoffs; eight out of twelve teams do, so that’s not that bold a prediction. This team, as constructed, has a lot to like, and a lot of questions. The spine is strong: from back to front you’ve got talented GK Jahmali Waite, two beasts at CB in Arturo Ordonez and Joe Farrell, a strong midfield pair in Robbie Mertz and Kenardo Forbes, and an excellent striker in Albert Dikwa. After that, who knows? If the Riverhounds can only scrounge 52 points, it’d be a bummer for fans, though: it’ll take at least 58 to secure a top four spot and guarantee a home playoff game.

John Krysinsky: As a point of reference, the past two regular seasons were good for but not good enough for the Hounds. In 2022, they finished 16-9-9 when back to playing a 34-game schedule, picking up 57 points. In 2021, they were 17-7-8 in eight-team Atlantic Division, good for 58 points in a 32-game schedule.

My hunch is that they remain in that range, with a slight improvement to 17-7-10, good for 61 points, third place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Smith: I definitely see the Riverhounds as a playoff team as they continue in the Bob Lilley era. With a much new lineup losing some key players, I don’t see them making it to the top of the eastern conference but it doesn’t mean they’ll fight for it or even come close. As a mainly defensive team, results ending in a tie are inevitable. Losing some offensive power might cause that as well. The past two seasons the Hounds earned 58 and 57 points. I see them right around that again, finishing with a 17-10-7 record sounds about right.

Matt Popchock: ” ‘Can’ they make the playoffs?” is a question I think most people, myself included, would answer with a qualified yes. I’ve said many times that, with Bob Lilley in charge, you always have a chance, and I stand by that sentiment. ” ‘Will’ they make the playoffs?” is the question that seems to have planted seeds of doubt. Every off-season is the same vicious cycle for Hounds fans, although “vicious” is a strong word, even coming off the soul-crusher that ended their last season. Every winter, there’s significant roster attrition. Every winter, those of us who still have it tear our hair out worrying about replacing those guys. Every winter, Bob brings back a few proven veterans, lures a few established pros who are probable fits for his system, throws in a college free agent here or there, and lets training camp/preseason Darwinism take care of the rest of the opening night roster. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually, they develop enough chemistry to be a playoff team, and I don’t see why 2023 should be any different. It’s true that scoring and speed are question marks, but I think they’ve gotten better defensively, with much-needed goalkeeping stability. It’s also true that the days of the Hounds being able to harvest MLS-2 teams are over, but that’s a lifestyle change the other 23 teams in the league have to deal with as well. After finishing in fifth in the East with 57 points, in a year in which they probably underperformed, I’ll predict the Hounds hit 60 on the nose this year, and finish fourth in the East–aided by one of last year’s head-turners (read: Memphis or Detroit) coming back to Earth. Betting against a coach who’s never missed the playoffs takes a lot of nerve, and Bob will prove wrong the outsiders who have done so.

2. Who will be the team’s leading goal scorer?

AE: Albert Dikwa will be the leading scorer as he continues to improve his shots.

RK: My belief on this topic is to always pick someone new. Returning this season are Albert Dikwa and Edward Kizza. Dikwa finished second in the Hounds scoring race with 11 goals, behind 15-goal finisher Russell Cicerone, who is now with Sacramento Republic. Kizza, on the other hand, signed a deal after being on loan from New England last year. He had three goals.

But, if there’s one thing I love, it’s betting on the new guys. As much as I want to pick Langston Blackstock because of his incredible name, I’m going to pick Tony López with 12 goals. He’s coming off a productive spell with Cal United STrikers FC of the National Independent Soccer Association, and has also been abroad.

AF: Dikwa, 15, building on last year. No Russ, he’s THE MAN now.

MEP: It’s just my luck that the light bulb would go on for Albert Dikwa right as I was ready to give up on him. I previously championed him in this space, as you may recall, before resigning myself to his untapped potential after that injury-plagued 2021 campaign. But “Big Dikwa Energy” grabbed my attention in 2022 with his 11 goals, second only to Russell Cicerone’s 15. With the latter gone, and with Dikwa, presumably, getting those touches, and more chances, I’ll split the difference and predict a baker’s dozen for the Cameroon native to lead the 2023 Hounds.

MG: Albert Dikwa, no doubts. The team has moved on from Russell Ciccerone, Dane Kelly, and Alex Dixon, and that means that Dikwa has been anointed the man. If he can stay healthy, I think he could have 17 goals.

JK: The sense is that if all goes well, Dikwa, and Mertz are going to be among the expected leaders, but I’m feeling the vibes that given an opportunity to finally play a full season at the pro level, much like Neco Brett when he got his first chance in 2018, that Edward Kizza could be in store for a breakout season, with 13 goals.

3. What new player are you most interested in seeing this year?

RK: There are a lot of players gone from the defense. It’s actually kind of staggering. Midfield is returning a group of guys that can serve as starters, and forwards will have to test themselves quickly. However, on defense, the loss of Shane Weidt is big — literally. Center backs are big guys, and they’re hard to replace. I’m intrigued to see how Mike DeShields does for the Hounds in 2023.

AF: New player: Joe Farrell. Experienced player who could bring a lot to the squad.

MG: The two young forward additions, Langston Blackstock and Tola Showunmi, are exciting. Considering that Bob Lilley could have dipped into the USL veteran reservoir for goals but chose these two dudes has me intrigued. The Hounds have a reputation for finding great Division II players, and Blackstock is a recent D2 grad out of Clayton State. Showunmi, who was drafted in 2022 by Atlanta United, also clearly has turned the scouts’ heads. The only problem is that his last name is going to lead to some awful announcer puns this year. I refuse to participate.

JS: I think Edward Kizza might really break out this year and perform tons of magic as he did in the playoff run this past season. I could see him leading the team in goals. Dikwa is also another option of course as he’ll probably start most games in the 9.

AE: Interested to see experienced Defender Joe Farrell. Strong presence on the back line is needed and Farrell has potential to be just that. Along with trio of Hispanic players Ordónez, Dossantos and Rovira, this could be a pesky, formidable defense.

JS: I’m very much interested this season in seeing the defense with new players on the backline, as well as some new holding midfielders. Will the team have a swift transition after losing Danny Griffin? That’ll be up to Junior Etou and Marc Ybarra and maybe even Dani Rovira (the X factor). I do believe Arturo Ordonez will turn out to be an All-USL defender this season or come close to earning the award. Expect to see him score some goals. The former player at Pitt is going to be the leader of this backline.

MEP: I’m interested to see what Joe Farrell can bring to the Hounds defensively from Phoenix Rising (which remains one of the coolest names in sports, but I digress). His USL resume reads very well, he’s already familiar with this head coach, and if he can bolster the Hounds on set pieces in a way that nobody on the backline has been able to since Joe Greenspan, so much the better. Furthermore, Farrell has featured on playoff teams and teams that weren’t allergic to expectations, and the Hounds don’t need any more stark reminders about the importance of playoff experience as they try to get over that hump.

JK: There’s a bunch of players on this roster who are new to this roster. The one guy who intrigues me the most is Tony Lopez. He has some previous pro experience in NISA and played in second division in Brazil. Bob Lilley spoke highly of him and he could be an additional attacking piece that could boost the Hounds scoring.

4. Who do you think will win the USL’s Eastern Conference?

MG: The two strongest looking teams are Birmingham and Memphis. Memphis returns 21-goal scorer Phillip Goodum, although he’s apparently not thrilled to be back:


Birmingham returns some core talent like Phanuel Kavita, Alex Crognale, and Prosper Kasim. Meanwhile perennial Eastern conference juggernaut Tampa Bay lost three of their key players – Sebastian Guenzatti, Steevan Dos Santos, and Leo Fernandes. One could argue Louisville looks fantastic because they brought back 16 players from their team in 2022. I see a team that’s complacent and lacks that new spark.

I pick Birmingham to top the East.

AE: The Tampa Bay Rowdies will emerge as USL Eastern conference champions by beating the Riverhounds in the conference final.

RK: Pittsburgh’s draw against Louisville City took them out of the running for me, especially when I heard that Pittsburgh looked like the better team. I wouldn’t mind to see a team like Memphis take it all, especially as a big fan of goalkeeping legend Tim Howard. Detroit is also super likable, as well.

JS: The safe picks are always the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Louisville City. Both organizations year in and year out are good. Last year I picked the Riverhounds but with not knowing their goal-scoring ability yet this season I don’t have them first.

AF: East Winner: Louisville.

MEP: Louisville is certainly the beast of the East and has been for a number of years. As the great African-American orator, Lizzo, once proclaimed, truth hurts, and the truth that we have to face here in Pittsburgh is, their perennial status as prohibitive favorite has been rightfully earned. However, at the risk of “going there,” they’ve also been very fortunate in the postseason, which is bound to run its course sooner or later…right? Aside from our Kentuckian counterparts, the closest thing I’ve seen to a well-oiled machine, with my own eyes, are the Tampa Bay Rowdies. I won’t soon forget the way they completely dismantled the Hounds in their own backyard last summer, in a way that very few Pittsburgh opponents have since Bob Lilley’s arrival. I kind of feel like the Soccer Gods have owed them one ever since the pandemic put the kibosh on their 2020 USL Final berth, so I’ll go with the Rowdies as this year’s Eastern Conference flag bearer.

JK: Indy Eleven have made some major upgrades at forward and in the midfield. I have a feeling that they move into top four this year.

How can you go against Louisville City when they bring back more than 20 players from league runner-up? Tampa lost some scoring punch but they bring back Forrest Lasso so they’ll be a top four squad again.

My pick will be Louisville City — until someone shows me otherwise they are still the team to beat.

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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