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Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Preview and Scouting Report: As Eastern Conference race to top of table heats up, Riverhounds face Loudoun squad with Pittsburgh-heavy connections

Photo courtesy Loudoun United FC

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC get back to league business once again after an enthralling midweek US Open Cup victory against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night at an electric Highmark Stadium.

The club, which is unbeaten in its last four and won two straight in league play, turns its attention to a short road trip to Northern Virginia, as they’ll take on the closest club in the USL Championship, and budding Eastern Conference foe, Loudoun United FC.

With nine goals in his first 10 league games, Albert Dikwa got off to the fastest start Hounds history. The previous record for most goals in the first 10 matches of a season was eight, a feat shared by Thiago Martins in 2003 and Rob Vincent in 2015.  Dikwa also scored the lone goal in the Hounds big Open Cup win, but midway through the second half, he went down with what Head Coach Bob Lilley described after the match as a hip flexor.  Dikwa left the match, but is not showing up on the Hounds injury/inactives report ahead of this match. (Only Dani Rovira — knee injury — lands on the report).

Dikwa’s former teammate, Russell Cicerone has also remained hot, with two goals in Sacramento’s victory at Hartford on Friday night, tying him with Dikwa in the league’s golden boot race.

The Hounds have an awkward history of some missteps in Loudoun, losing one match (a 2-1 defeat) in 2021, but since that loss, they’ve won four straight in the series.

This is an important match for the Hounds, as all of the teams in front of them in the standings pulled out wins over the weekend, as the race for the top spot in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference will begin to really heat up as the Summer fast approaches.

Looking at the standings, Loudoun despite is very poor form of late (five straight losses in league play) is also pushing and in contention for its first-ever playoff appearance in the USL Cup Tournament, as they step foot on the pitch for the first time in eight days, and will be more rested than Pittsburgh.

More on Loudoun 

Taking a quick glance at the Loudoun roster, led by Ryan Martin, a former assistant coach of current Pitt Head Coach Jay Vidovich when they were at Wake Forest together, you will find a bunch of names familiar to Pittsburgh soccer fans.

“It was really a masterclass in attention to detail,” Martin said recently to of working for Vidovich.

“How do you really emphasize the game from a tactical point? How do you leave no stone unturned in terms of your preparation for game day? And then really the importance of training and maximizing everything you can get out of a training session.

Before we get into all of the Pittsburgh connections, after being Vidovich’s top assistant and recruiting coach and being part of a National Championship squad and multiple College Cup appearances, Martin made his bones at the professional level in helping build FC Cincinnati’s roster in 2016.  Martin moved on to DC United Academy, and eventually became Loudoun’s Head Coach in 2019.

Now its its first year as an independent club, free of affiliation with DC United, Martin has guided Loudoun to an up-and-down start to the season, as they post a 3-7-1 record, but those three wins all came before April 23.  They turned a lot of heads with its season opening 3-1 win at Memphis, including its season opening goal from one-time Riverhound, Tommy Williamson.

It’s still a very young team, with a lot of former college players, some ruminants from DC United’s youth system and a few veterans.  This team is led by Zach Ryan, a 24-year-old former NY Red Bulls product, who has five goals and two assists on the season. Wearing the captain’s armband for the young squad, Ryan is a former Stanford University product too, who was signed as a homegrown talent.

Ryan is joined in attack by a collegiate rival, former California Golden Bear, Tommy Williamson, who you might recall had a nice one-season spell in Pittsburgh in 2021 when he was on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes.

A look at the team’s opening goal of the season shows both Williamson’s finishing ability, but also how Loudoun likes to build-up its attack with short passes into the box.

In a season when Alex Dixon and Russell Cicerone were leading the attack, and Albert Dikwa was still dealing with injuries and inconsistent play, WIlliamson added six goals for the Hounds in 2021.

Two two key playmakers the Hounds will have to be concerned with are its two wingers, Kalil Elmedkhar on the left side, who leads the club with a pair of assists to go along with his two goals and Koa Santos, who is sixth in the USLC in crosses, with 50.  Santos has played in every match, and has been a solid presence on the right wing.

While the Loudoun roster has a lot of players from the collegiate system, one player that has come from international waters, is central midfielder Panagiotis Armenakas, who’s been a bit of a mixed bag this year, with just one goal and one assist.

In 2015, the Australian was named among the 50 players selected to The Guardian’s Next Generation. You might have heard of some of his contemporaries in that group, like current United States captain Christian Pulisic, Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, and Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano.

Coming through the youth academies at England’s Watford FC and Italy’s Udinese, and part of the Australian squad at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2015, he turned professional on his 19th birthday at the Serie A club, becoming the youngest Australian to sign professionally in one of Europe’s consensus top five leagues.

While he didn’t reach the level where he was prospected back in the mid-2010s, he’s an experienced player on the world stage, and is a player to watch.

The hosts also have former Hounds Academy goalkeeper Dane Jacomen, who moved to DC United Academy, then attended University of Pennsylvania, where he starred as the primary goalkeeper from 2018-20, before signing a pro contract.  He has made a few appearances both on loan to (now Third Division) Charlotte Independence and this season with Loudoun as the club’s back up to Hugo Fauroux.

Allderdice, RDA Keeper Dane Jacoman To Attend DC United Youth Academy

On the backline, you may notice a few former key Pitt players, Bryce Washington and Yanis Leerman, both who were key center back contributors for Pitt’s College Cup teams in 2021 (Washington) and 2023 (Leerman).

Leerman hasn’t played since April 30, as he appears to still be injured, while Washington, who was signed to a homegrown contract with Atlanta United, and was a teammate of Robbie Mertz with ATLUTD 2 in 2021, has been a steady presence in the back for Loudoun.

Martin has continued a tradition of having former Pitt defenders on his back lines, as previously Loudoun employed both Shane Wiedt (now with Sacramento) and Robbie Dambrot (in Indy).

Loudoun likes to play with three in the back, often featuring a 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2, looking to play a possession style system.  Against Hartford in its last match, they owned 62% of the ball on the road.

Here’s how Loudoun lined up in its last match (2-0 loss at Hartford).  They did have some squad rotation, having played three matches in seven days.

Match Ups to Watch 

The Hounds will have to be concerned about the wingers, Santos and ElMedkhar as well as Ryan must be held in check and Armenakas, who usually sits below them as the attacking midfielder in the 3-4-1-2.

Pittsburgh has been so good at limiting its opponents chances and shots, that this should be a favorable match up, as Loudoun is near the bottom of the league in generating chances (12 goals, 128 shots and 12% conversion rate).

The Hounds resurgence in May, with four straight wins in all competitions, has come with the addition of Danny Griffin to the roster and strong midfield play.  The Hounds continue to be willing to concede possession, yet they’ve also been on the brighter side of each match in terms of generating more dangerous scoring chances.  Against a team that is sixth in total passes and seventh in passing accuracy, Pittsburgh will likely continue to look to bottle up yet another opponent, forcing them to be patient and eventually get frustrated into making mistakes that they can capitalize upon.

Pittsburgh will be playing its third match in eight days, so it’s expected the Bob Lilley will go with some squad rotation for this match.  The lineup mainstays continue to be Dikwa, Nate Dossantos, Arturo Ordonez, Danny Griffin and goalkeeper Jahmali Waite.  Robbie Mertz and Kenardo Forbes are also pretty close to sure bets to be in the match.  Mertz started the Open Cup match, but did sit last Saturday. Not playing or starting in the Open Cup match, but have been key contributors include Langston Blackstock, Burke Fahling.

Depending upon the extend of his injury from Wednesday, this may be a chance for the Hounds to give their star forward some extended rest, and its likely he may not be in the starting lineup for once in a league match this season.

Also, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see one of the back-up keepers possibly getting a start, as Jahmali Waite has played a lot, and the Hounds will need to have its other keepers, Christian Garner and Jonathan Gomes ready when Waite potentially gets called back to play with Jamaican National Team.  (Reggae Boyz have two friendlies on June 15 and June 19, then Gold Cup begins play on June 24).

Match info

Riverhounds (4-2-5) vs. Loudoun United FC (3-7-1)
Date: Sunday, May 28
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Segra Field, Leesburg, Va.
Odds: Hounds +115 / Draw +245 / Loudoun +190 (DraftKings)
Streaming: ESPN+
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #LDNvPIT and #HOUNDTAHN

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).

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Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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