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Takeaways and Player Grades: Determined Dikwa continues to shine while new guys step up for Hounds

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

Riverhounds SC Head Coach Bob Lilley was well aware of his team’s challenge of trying to prepare for a league match only a few days following an exhilarating road Open Cup win vs the New England Revolution.

At the same time, the Hounds gaffer had plenty of confidence and belief that his squad would be up-to-the task against a Birmingham Legion FC team that has been struggling of late in league play.

Pittsburgh walked away with a very satisfying 2-1 victory against a league rival in Birmingham which had climbed up to the top of the table early in the season, but have now lost three straight matches by a combined 9-3 aggregate score.

FINAL: Riverhounds SC 2, Birmingham Legion FC 1

Playing before a packed house in its first home league match since mid-April, the Hounds started the match on the front foot once again taking an early lead on an Albert Dikwa goal.

This time, it took just 11 minutes.  In previous two league matches Diwka also scored goals before the twentieth minute.  Despite letting Birmingham back into the match late in the first half, and allowing a pretty spectacular free kick goal from 17-year old Matt Corcoran, the home team made the proper adjustments at the half, and were clearly the better team in the second half — sending the home crowd home with a win and eager to get back to Highmark Stadium for more.

And they’ll be seeing a lot more of the Hounds in the coming weeks and months.  This important league win pushes the Hounds further up in the standings as they begin a long stretch of matches at home, with one exception, a short road trip to Loudoun United FC on May 28.

Until then, they’ll be hosting Las Vegas on Saturday, then the big Open Cup clash with Columbus on May 24 at Highmark.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Lilley acknowledged after the match.

“The team’s operating well now. We have guys ready to step up.”

Lineup, Formation and Tactics 

Acknowledging that many players are eager to make their mark and competition within the team is pretty fierce at the present time, Lilley continues to work different players we might not completely expect into the starting lineup which came out in a 5-4-1 formation, with Dikwa, of course, as the top man.

The biggest wrinkle to the lineup the Hounds put on the field on Saturday came with the pairing of DZ Harmon and Langston Blackstock on the wings, in two-way roles covering against Bimingham’s speedy attacking wide players, while also getting involved in stretching the opponents when getting forward.

Otherwise, since the return of Danny Griffin (this was his third game back with the club and first at home), it’s absolutely clear that he’ll be paired with Robbie Mertz and Kenardo Forbes as part of the attacking midfield line, and in this match, with Trevor Zwetsloot back as the holding midfielder.  The four midfielders were set up as a diamond.

The backline consisted of three center backs: Nate Dossantos, Arturo Ordonez and Pat Hogan — but the wingers (Harmon and Blackstock) tucked back into the back line, giving the Hounds a five-man line.

Lilley used the halftime stoppage to use one of his subs, swapping Marc Ybarra for Zwetsloot.

The Hounds also kept legs fresh, brought on Luke Biasi and Edward Kizza in the 65th minute, while Junior Etou came on in the 74th minute, and in the last sub window, Mike DeShields reinforced the defending efforts in the 85th minute.

Determined Dikwa striving for ‘perfection’  

This is becoming a regular part of this space for me to write about Dikwa’s continued impressive run of play and his contributions to the club.  With two more goals, he now leads the USL Championship with nine total goals, scoring five in his last three matches.

This is a goal scoring tear that we have not seen here in Pittsburgh, on this pace in a short amount of time that we haven’t seen here since Rob Vincent’s 2015 season.

Ironically, trailing him are two of his former teammates and attacking line mates: Alex Dixon and Russell Cicerone who both have seven goals after this weekend, when Cicerone put together a hat trick for Sacramento.

Who knew, Bob Lilley is producing goal scoring leaders at a crazy rate!

And why not. The veteran, Hall of Fame coach can be pretty demanding and a devil of the details.

After the match, the Cameroonian forward was pretty humble in his response to his success, focused mainly on his role and doing what needs to be done for the success of his team.

And what Dikwa has done so well, and what Lilley has been trying to get his forwards and attacking players to do successfully in recent years in Pittsburgh, is make those timely runs and find the spaces where they can exploit their opponents.

Dikwa did this on both goals.

On the first goal, he saw teammate Kenardo Forbes making a diagonal run to the right side of the box.  Danny Griffin took possession of the ball outside of the arc after a Langston Blackstock shot attempt was blocked, then found the Hounds’ captain with a nice looping pass.

“I always know that (Kenardo) will put the ball in a dangerous place,” Dikwa explained.

Forbes didn’t flinch, perfectly redirecting the ball across the goal box for Dikwa to come through for the clinical finish.

On the second goal, the Hounds were pushing forward in the 70th minute with some added intensity, having had a goal taken off the board (more on that in a bit) seven minutes earlier.

This sequence started with Blackstock again, but this time instead of a shot being blocked, the former New England Revolution II and Clayton State University (DII school in South Carolina) standout, won a ball thanks to a couple of his teammates pressuring the ball in the corner. Once Blackstock took possession, he also had the composure to take an extra touch or two to evade some pressure, then send a short bending cross to the near post area.

Dikwa bolted forward toward the ball, then beat his closely marked defender to the ball, with the advice of his coach in mind, to head the ball, redirecting it to the left, past goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel against the momentum.

“Coach Bob (Lilley) always says to get inside the shoulder, and I knew I could get to it,” Dikwa explained.

Dikwa’s clearly in a goal scoring groove, as he not only got himself into proper position, but also had the presence to head the ball downward with just enough pace to make it a more difficult stop for the keeper who had to change direction to make the stop.

Again, humble in his explanation, Dikwa left the praises to those around him, primarily his demanding coach.

“It’s all thanks to Coach Bob (Lilley),” Dikwa said.

“In training, if I make a little mistake, I’m getting killed every single time, because Bob is a guy who wants perfection. That’s something I can take. It’s for my benefit to improve every time. Something I’ve been working on is my finishing. I want it to go up and to the next level. I’m in the right place for that and have the best coach to help me with that.”

Lilley was happy to see Dikwa reap the rewards that have been coming due the most important ingredient and first step in becoming top level player.

Hard work.

“It’s hard to mark him. He’s determined,” Lilley boasted.

“He’s going to drag center backs around. He’s done really well for us. That’s why he’s getting it done. It doesn’t surprise me. No one has worked harder in this team and in this league.  He’s the first guy at practice, last to leave the gym most days.”

Mystery Push negates Hounds goal 

What would a tightly contested match between two Eastern Conference rivals be without a little officiating controversy?

In this case, the Hounds appeared to take the lead in the 63rd minute, but the goal, coming from a cross into the box — over to the far post for Danny Griffin — was disallowed.

This spoiled Griffin’s exuberant response and celebration, as he ran to the Steel Army after putting the ball in the back of the net.

Lilley clearly expressed his displeasure with the goal, but didn’t say as much as he really wanted to as he knew he didn’t want to get into too much deep water with the League.

“We haven’t scored a ton of goals, but today, as far as I’m concerned, we scored three,” Lilley said.

Official Adam Kilpatrick waved off a Danny Griffin goal, keeping the match level.

After the match, on behalf of the media contingent in the press box, as part of USL Championship protocol, the match media can formally submit an inquiry to the officials.

On behalf of the other writers in the box, for the first time since this option was put in place ahead of the 2021 season, Jerin Steele (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) and Keith Barnes (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) and I formally submitted one question to Kilpatrick and his crew, and received the following no-frills explanation on the disallowed goal.

“Prior to goal being scored, Pittsburgh Riverhounds #2 Danny Griffin committed a pushing foul on Birmingham Legion #13 Jake Rufe.”

Watching the replay numerous times, it was clear there wasn’t much contact, if at all.

Dikwa knew that all they could do was to keep pushing for the go-ahead goal.

“We were a little bit disappointed (with the disallowed goal), but we’re at home, we have great fans and the energy to keep going,” Dikwa said.

“I knew I had to get in position to score. A tie is like a loss at home for us. That’s why in training, the standard is to win every time we’re at home. That disallowed goal gave us energy and determination to go get that second one.”

Wingers rotation starting to show some teeth 

As mentioned at the outset of this piece, Bob Lilley acknowledged after the match that competition for playing time has been pretty strong among the group, and some players are starting to step up who weren’t playing as much earlier in the season.

Two players Lilley put into the lineup for this game were prime examples:  DZ Harmon and Blackstock.

When the Hounds were struggling to find ways to create chances and be more dynamic in late March and through much of April, one of the areas where they seemed to be lacking was on the width, both with service but also with covering the two-way responsibilities.  Dani Rovira, who’s been out with a knee injury, and Nathan Dossantos were taking most of the minutes in these roles for much of the early part of the season.

With the emergence of Luke Biasi’s solid play along with Blackstock, who had a breakout performance at Monterey Bay, his first start in league action, Lilley was starting to see more quality options on the wings.

This was Harmon’s second start this season in league play, and fourth in all competitions, but coming off a positive outing at New England, Lilley opted to keep him in the lineup as well.

The Harmon-Blackstock outside pairing were dangerous enough on the width that their efforts helped stretch the Legion’s shape when the Hounds were getting forward.

Blackstock was involved in creating two chances, while Harmon was also productive when getting forward, while both were absolutely key in tracking back to deny Birmingham’s dangerous speedy wide players like Tyler Pasher and Proper Kassim, along with target forwards like former Hound Neco Brett and former USMNT/MLS player, Juan Argudelo, any quality goal scoring moments and getting behind the Hounds defensive shape.

The only issue Lilley had with his group on the night, was that at times they were pushing too high, and leaving the back line to be a bit vulnerable.

Birmingham took advantage of a Pat Hogan foul on the edge of the box, that was predicated in Lilley’s view because Pittsburgh was giving away too much space in the latter stages of the first half.

A club with all those big name, proven scorers, it was a 17-year old, former FC Dallas Academy product Matt Corcoran who buried the close range free kick, with a brilliant strike that froze Hounds keeper Jahmali Waite, and flew into the left side of goal to level the match.

Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

The duo of Harmon and Blackstock, though, combined for eight recoveries and five clearances.

The Hounds again were extremely stingy, for the second straight league match, only allowed four total shots (one on target) but did not allow any ‘big chances’ from Birmingham in the run of play.

If you go back to its last four total league matches, the Hounds have allowed just 22 shot attempts.

In a pretty even match on some level when it came to possession (50/50), and shots, Pittsburgh were just flat out tougher in the trenches — winning duels decisively (57-35), more successful dribbles (9-4), but more importantly, brought more pressure with five shots (of eight) coming inside the box.

“The team’s operating well now. We have guys ready to stop up. This team’s still finding still finding its identity.  New guys are starting to step up. I had to make some tough decision.  Marc Ybarra had a heck of a game (on Tuesday night in Open Cup win at New England), but he was on the bench.  That tells you a lot about where we are right now.”

#PITvBHM Player Grades 

Riverhounds SC Lineup (5-4-1) — Jahmali Waite; DZ Harmon (Luke Biasi 65’), Arturo Ordóñez, Pat Hogan, Nate Dossantos, Langston Blackstock (Junior Etou 74’); Danny Griffin, Trevor Zwetsloot (Marc Ybarra 45’), Robbie Mertz (Edward Kizza 65’), Kenardo Forbes (Michael Deshields 84’); Albert Dikwa

Birmingham Legion FC (4-2-3-1) — Matt Van Oekel; Jacob Rufe (Gabriel Alves 76’), Moses Mensah (Collin Smith 76’), Alex Crongale, Ben Reveno; Matthew Corcoran, Mikey Lopez (Anderson Asiedu 45’); Tyler Pasher, Diba Nwegbo (Enzo Martinez 58’), Prosper Kasim; Neco Brett (Juan Agudelo 28’)


Jahmali Waite – 5 – He was completely frozen on the free kick.  Some might feel that he had no chance, others thought he should have been able to get to it.  I thought it was a great strike, that went over the wall, and an area Waite wasn’t in position to cover.  Made one save, had eight recoveries on 31 touches.


Luke Biasi (65’) – N/R – Positive things happen when Biasi comes into the lineup, this time as a sub.

Mike DeShields (84′) – N/R – following solid start in Open Cup win, came on to help seal this win late.

Arturo Ordóñez – 8 – I’ll keep writing this — continues to deserve merit for All-USL consideration.  Won 7 of 8 duels, 3/3 in tackles, two interceptions, two clearances and had six recoveries.

DZ Harmon – 7 –  emerging into another solid option on the wing/outside back with a good two-match run here.

Langston Blackstock – 7.5 – had an assist, following up his excellent outing at Monterey Bay with a productive two-way performance.

Pat Hogan – 5.5 – tough foul to take, but overall was still solid in the center back trio.  Had 73 touches  including 13 passes into the final third — 72% passing accuracy — had three clearances, five recoveries but also committed three fouls.

Nate Dossantos – 7.5 — this was one of his best games this year and showed why having him with the center back trio might work better.  Won 9/10 duels, had team high 77 touches, with eight recoveries, three clearances, two interceptions and drew two fouls.


Trevor Zwetsloot – 6 – This time, Zwetsloot got the start as the holding midfielder.  Was solid in passing (82%) and had five recoveries, and five passes into the final third.

Danny Griffin – 7 – Could have been two goals in his first three games, but overall, another solid night for Griffin in his first game back at Highmark.  On 52 touches, 79% passing accuracy and 8 recoveries (1/3 on duels).

Marc Ybarra (45′) – 5.5 – workmanlike performance coming on for second half. Won 2/5 duels, created a chance, had a shot, had four recoveries and committed three fouls while drawing one.

Edward Kizza (65′) – 5.5 – off bench for Mertz, this time with nine touches, but missed on one big chance in the box.

Robbie Mertz – 6 – not on the end of a lot of scoring chances lately, but still bringing solid, steady performances (40 touches, five passes into final third, nine recoveries with two fouls won and two committed)

Junior Etou (75′) – N/R – what a solid rotation the Hounds now have at midfield, that they can bring Etou, a proven USL veteran, off the bench to help lock down the victory.

Kenardo Forbes – 8 – thought it was one of better performances this season from Kenny, who had that splendid assists.  All-important 60 touches — highest among the midfielders — and 79% passing accuracy, but key in helping create more quality on the ball in the middle and final third along with Griffin and Mertz.


Albert Dikwa (79’) – 9 – I don’t usually give out a lot of 9’s and 10’s, but at this rate, as long as he keeps scoring two goals a game, he’ll get high grades from me.

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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