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Preview and Scouting Report: Maryland Bobcats are back in the ‘Burgh for Open Cup rematch with Hounds

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC were given a free pass into the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, thanks to a 1-0 forfeit win against now ceased Rochester NY FC.

The opponent for the Hounds in the Third Round will be none other than the NISA club they faced in the Second Round last year, the Maryland Bobcats.  In the 2022 tournament, Pittsburgh took care of business by dispatching Maryland’s only professional club, 2-0, at Highmark Stadium, thanks in large part to Toby Sims’ brace.

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 2, Maryland Bobcats FC 0 (US Open Cup 2nd Round)

In the Highmark Stadium era (since 2013), this is the third time the Hounds find themselves in an Open Cup rematch, as they also faced Chicago-based amateurs RWB Adria in 2013 and 2014.  They also faced FC Cincinnati in 2018 and again in 2022.

Both teams will be playing on short rest, as Pittsburgh will have to shake off a tough road loss to El Paso, 2-0, while Maryland is coming off a 5-1 win at home vs Club de Leon.

Out of the lineup for Pittsburgh, landing on the team’s injury report for this match will be Junior Etou (arm) and Dani Rovira (knee).

More on the Maryland Bobcats

Photo courtesy Maryland Bobcats

Since we last saw the Bobcats at Highmark Stadium, the NISA side, which became a pro entity in 2020, had an up-and-down season in their professional league in 2022, finishing the season 8-6-9, Maryland qualified for the playoffs, but dropped a road defeat to ALBION San Diego, which ended its season.

In case you don’t know, NISA (National Independent Soccer Association) currently sits in the third tier of American soccer, sharing that level with USL’s League One and MLS Next Pro.

With the addition of three teams at the Third Division level, there have never more opportunities for talented young, want-to-be professional soccer players to break into the ranks of pro sports.

Considering the size the Country, there are not enough places for players who no longer make the cut at the MLS clubs to still play professionally and share their experiences with younger players.

The Bobcats roster is made up of a combination of a lot of recent college players and some guys who’ve had a taste of pro experience. Since the last time they played at Highmark Stadium last April, they’ve seen heavy roster turnover and a new coach, as MBFC kept things in-house with the hiring of former Player, Alex Kao.

Kao has been with MBFC since 2019, first as a midfielder where he was integral in winning the UPSL Fall 2019 National Championship.

The club is off to a solid, 2-0 start in NISA play, including a 5-1 triumph this past weekend over Club de Leon.

Darwin Espinal, one of the carryovers on the roster from last season, opened the scoring in the 5th minute with a nice far post finish assisted by James Filerman. Espinals second goal of the match came in the 29th minute after a composed finish with his left foot, on a pass from Jack Villatoro.

Ironically, last year, headed into its match with Pittsburgh, Maryland also won a league match, against Flower City FC, by a 5-1 margin.

However, the difference this year is that Maryland carries a bit more Open Cup moxie.

In their second go-around in the tournament, they’ve advanced Third Round to earn this rematch with the Hounds in dramatic fashion in a wild contest played mostly as a 10v10 affair, as Maryland defeated the Ocean City Nor’easters, 3-2, as teenager Phillip Brown hit the game winner in the dying moments of the second period of added time.

One mainstay on the back line from last year is Richard Forka, but you will not see him on the pitch at Highmark.

It was Forka who was sent off in the late stages of the first half of the Open Cup win when a scuffle ensued between the clubs after a double-yellow card incited the teams to fisticuffs.

The Bobcats showed a lot of fight in an exciting match with Ocean City which had three lead changes.

Some players to be on the lookout including former Detroit City and Greenville Triumph player, Jimmy Filerman, and Abdul Kooistra, from the Gambian top division, who bring some experience to the back line, while  Dominique Kosséhassé and Ryan Machado-Jones are two additional defenders to round out to the defending corps.

Getting the start in goal for the Bobcats in the Open Cup win was Alexander Sutton, who played collegiately at Manhattan.

The strength of the Bobcats is likely the midfield, as they continue to rely on veteran Manny Gonzalez who is back at the defensive midfield position,

Espinal is a threat on the left wing.

A player to watch in the midfield is Iker Bustamante, a Hounduran-American who came up through the D.C. United Academy and last played for Steel Pulse FC, a club that the Bobcats merged with recently.

In the Open Cup match, Abdul Kooistra and Espinal were dangerous in pushing forward and creating problems for the Nor’easters.

Malik Thom, a former D.C United U-23 prospect who last played professionally in Australia, and Karl Mbouombouo, previously with PDX FC are two more young wingers who have been getting minutes for the club early in the season.

What to Expect: Hounds vs Bobcats 

A Bob Lilley coached team has never lost to a lower division outfit in the Open Cup, a very impressive record going all the way back through the more than 20 years as a professional coach (and he can even claim winning a Voyageurs Cup twice when with the Montreal Impact).

In last year’s contest, the Hounds were very much in the same boat when facing the Bobcats, having played a league match on the previous Saturday, went with a lot of players who had been on the bench for most of the early season league matches.  The 2022 match vs Maryland did give goalkeeper Jahmali Waite his first ever start in Pittsburgh.

It took about 20 to 25 minutes, but Pittsburgh did start to clearly dictate terms of that match especially as the half came to a close. Maryland were decent in possession, as the Hounds press wasn’t as punishing as it probably could have been.  However, Pittsburgh’s back four and CMFs didn’t give Maryland much to work with beyond the middle portion of the field.

Expect more of the same, but the good news for Hounds fans is that Pittsburgh’s bench players this season are probably a bit further along in terms of being battle-tested, as Lilley has utilized 19 different field players in his starting lineups already this season.

Every match this season, the Hounds have started Albert Dikwa, so it’s likely that the high-energy forward, with four league goals, has earned a chance to sit down, at least to start the match, and give way to another topman for a change.

The question is, who will that be?

Tola Showumni, Langston Blackstock, DZ Harmon and Edward Kizza have all seen time this season in attacking roles, with Kizza earning the most starts, but none have been able to get into the scoresheet.  This match could provide an excellent opportunity for one or more of these players to take a step forward and build some confidence with the ball at their feet in and around the box.

Same at the goalkeeper spot, as Jahmali Waite had started in six of the Hounds’ seven matches.  This might be a chance for Christian Garner or Jonathan Gomes to pick up some valuable playing time as well.

Hounds Projected Starters 


Should the Hounds win
  • The team will advance to the Fourth Round (Round of 32) of the cup for the fifth time in club history and first since 2019.
  • The Hounds would be joined in the next round by 23 other Third Round winners and the eight “seeded” MLS teams who have not yet entered the competition, including the Philadelphia Union and both New York MLS teams. Pairings for the next round are expected to be drawn Thursday.
  • Head coach Bob Lilley will maintain his undefeated record in cup matches against lower-division opponents.

Fun Hounds’ Open Cup Factoids

  • In the Highmark Stadium era (since 2013), the Hounds have posted an 10-8 overall record in the Open Cup. (this includes its 2nd round forfeit win vs Rochester NY FC).
  • All-time, the Hounds are 15-17 overall in the Open Cup.
  • The club the Hounds have faced the most in Open Cup?  None other than former Old Guard Shield rival Rochester (losses in 2000, 2008, 2009, 2010).  The forfeit win in 2023 technically was its first ever against Rochester in the competition.
  • Other clubs the Hounds have faced more than once in the Open Cup
    • Chicago Fire (2001 & 2014)
    • DC United (2003 & 2015)
    • Michigan Bucks (2006 & 2012)
    • RWB Adria (2013 & 2014)
    • FC Cincinnati (2018 & 2022)
  • In six matches vs MLS opponents, the Hounds have posted a 1-6 record
    • The Hounds’ lone win vs MLS foe came vs Colorado Rapids (2-0) on June 27, 2001, at Bethel Park Stadium
    • Three of their losses came in matches that went to Extra Time (3-2 loss vs Chicago in 2001, 3-1 loss vs DC United in 2015 and 2-1 loss at FC Cincinnati in 2022)
  • Against lower division teams, the Hounds have mixed success with an overall record of 9-7
    • After losing to Fourth Division Chicago FC United in 2017 and amatuers Landsdowne Bhoys in 2016, the Hounds have rebounded in the Bob Lilley era with wins against the Erie Commodores (2018) and Dayton Dutch Lions (2019).
    • In the Bob Lilley era, the Hounds are 5-3 in the Open Cup, with losses coming to FC Cincinnati (in 3rd Round in 2018 and 3rd Round in 2022) and Columbus Crew (in 4th Round in 2019). Wins have come versus Erie, Dayton, Indy Eleven (2019), Maryland Bobcats (2022) and Rochester (2023).



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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