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Doing it for ‘Family’: Albert Dikwa’s prolific scoring run a testament to perseverance, loyalty

In the first 15 minutes of their match vs Loudoun United FC on Saturday at Highmark Stadium before another sellout crowd, Riverhounds SC controlled possession but didn’t create many scoring chances.

Then, Hounds midfielder/winger Dani Rovira swung a ball into the middle of the box for forward Albert Dikwa.

The Riverhounds’ leading scorer connected on a header with plenty of pace, but it sailed — barely — wide right of the goal.

“You have to be switched on when you have a chance like that,” Dikwa explained, addressing his first chance of the evening, which turned out to be a miss.

“I was disappointed because it was perfect (one) for me to put it away.  That was a big mistake for me there.”

Fittingly, Dikwa didn’t let his disappointment keep him down.

By the end of the night, the Cameroonian positioned himself back into the league lead for goals, by adding his 15th and 16th scores in league play this season (he has another one in Open Cup competition too), catapulting past New Mexico United’s Danny Trejo, and more importantly, he helped his team to a 3-1 victory to keep the Riverhounds’ atop the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings.

Dealing with setbacks and disappointments is nothing new for Dikwa in his professional soccer career, yet the 25-year old striker has shown remarkable resiliency.

Dikwa came to the United States to attend Florida’s Monteverde Academy (same school where a number of recent top Pitt players attended), signing on with Orlando City’s B-team, still a USL Championship side in 2017, while remaining part of Cameroon’s national team pool, where he made six appearances for his home nation’s U-20 squad.

Still a teenager, Dikwa signed on with St. Louis FC where he scored four goals in 44 appearances.

In 2020, Dikwa signed with Pittsburgh, but had to wait for his chance to shine.

That March, due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dikwa went back to Cameroon to wait out the interruption to the start of the season. With massive travel restrictions in place and limits on foreign national’s obtaining visa’s to the U.S., Dikwa would not arrive back in Pittsburgh until a month after the start of the 2020 season, in September.

Still, in just six appearances, Dikwa made a splash, showing glimpses of why Head Coach Bob Lilley had plenty of faith in his abilities and work ethic, scoring three times and adding an assist during a shortened campaign where he mostly came off the bench.  Dikwa even earned a start in the club’s road playoff loss at Louisville City FC.

In 2021, with the departure of target forward Steevan Dos Santos, Lilley began to re-shift the Hounds’ tactical approach in getting forward, building a club that would be even more diverse in creating attacking options, but adding a stronger focus on attacking through spaces and breaking behind defenders.

In 2021, as he was getting into a groove, starting five straight matches that July (with the Hounds going 4-0-1 during that stretch), Dikwa would suffer a leg injury which put him out of commission for most of the rest of the season. He would come back for a late appearance vs Tampa Bay, off the bench in 10 minutes of action, but didn’t feature the rest of the season.  While he grew as a player in the first half of that season, making 15 appearances with two goals and three assists, cracking the starting lineup 11 times, he wasn’t able to take his game to the next level.

That season, the Hounds attack flourished primarily due to the combination of Alex Dixon and Russell Cicerone. With Dikwa back for the postseason, the team never knew what it could really accomplish, as a rash of COVID-19 positive cases on the team forced the Hounds to have to forfeit its first-round playoff match at Birmingham.

That offseason, it became a bit of a surprise to some that Lilley decided to re-sign Dikwa after his first option year contract expired at the end of the 2021 season.  In his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, Dikwa showed promise, with five goals and three assists in 21 appearances, but the COVID-19 shortened season in 2020, then an injury in 2021 kept him from reaching his full potential with the club.

Lilley sensed that if he could get a full season out of Dikwa, good things would happen.

“Albert brings energy and intelligent movement to our attack.  He continues to grow as a striker, works hard every day, and is well respected by his teammates,” Lilley said at the time, and adding the kicker.

“His best soccer is still in front of him.”

While Lilley believed that Dikwa had a lot of upside, he put his promising young forward into direct competition with the USL Championship’s all-time leading goal scorer Dane Kelly, as the Hounds made a rare splashy veteran signing.

To start that season, Kelly got the nod as the squad’s primary target forward ahead of Dikwa.

The signing of Kelly, a former USL Championship Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot winner, reaped dividends early in the 2022 season, as the Jamaican scored six goals in his first eight appearances.

All signs pointed toward Dikwa, being the Hounds’ second target forward, and first option off the bench for the team.

Then, somewhere in the middle season, Lilley started to turn more and more to Dikwa.

Using every ounce of energy in every shift he was on the field, the 6-foot-2 forward began to win over his coach and teammates, and began to take steps in becoming a more deadly and clinical finisher.  By mid-to-late season, the shift became complete, as Dikwa became the primary target striker, and Kelly quietly moved out of the limelight, and off the lineup card down the stretch of the season.

Quite simply, Dikwa became impossible to take off the field due to his two-way play, remarkable fitness covering ground and pressing effectively (a requirement for forwards in Lilley’s system) and growth in his decision-making and making timely runs and passes.  Dikwa would end up starting 15 of the team’s final 18 regular season matches, and was the go-to starter in both playoff matches at Birmingham and Louisville City FC, where he played 120-plus minutes in both marathon matches.

At season’s end, Dikwa would finish second to Cicerone for the team lead in goals scored, with 11.

As the 2023 season began, it was clear, with the departure of Cicerone, Dixon and Kelly, Dikwa would be the Hounds’ primary target forward.   With a hat trick at Memphis in the season’s second match, he confidence only continued to grow.

By early May, Dikwa completed back-to-back braces — or as we’ve become accustomed to calling them– ‘Dikwa doubles’.  He has since completed two more ‘Dikwa Doubles’.

The Hounds veteran head coach has always known with Dikwa, he’s has a player who is never going to be short on effort.

“It’s hard to mark him. He’s determined,” Lilley boasted in May after Dikwa’s second two-goal performance in two weeks.

“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.”

Additionally, Dikwa has grown into a leadership role with the team which he’s had his longest stint and grown the most as a professional.  In the past four years, Dikwa’s ascended as an integral part of a core group of players that includes Kenardo Forbes, Danny Griffin, Robbie Mertz and Dani Rovira, who are not just talented players, but also true disciples of Lilley’s principles of success, many who follow the veteran coach and his teams refer to as ‘Lilleyball’.

This was never more evident than a moment in what might have been considered one of the biggest matches in club history, when emotions were running at an apex.

In the U.S. Open Cup match played in May at Highmark Stadium, with the Hounds leading Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, 1-0, thanks to Dikwa’s clever finish off a deadly feed from Mertz, a couple players went to the ground after a hard collision at midfield. First-year Hounds forward, DZ Harmon, a veteran of USL Championship soccer, but still relatively new to this team culture, looked to be making his way over to the scrum from the sideline area where he was positioned as a winger. Dikwa though, took two steps toward  Harmon, then pointed to his head, letting his teammate know to let cooler heads prevail in that moment.

In the next Open Cup match, in early June at FC Cincinnati, Dikwa, who was in league lead with nine goals through the first 11 matches, was knocked out early in that match with a broken collarbone injury, which sidelined him for over a month.

Dikwa remains humbled, always learning and willing to take on whatever his demanding coach will throw his way or work hard to come back from an injury.

By early July, Dikwa was back in the lineup, but only scored one goal in his first six matches after returning, but has turned things up a notch in the last six matches, scoring six goals.

Fast forward to last Saturday, with the Hounds leading by a goal, but the team struggling to put away Loudoun United FC, and as an irate Lilley was trying to get his team to put their foot down on the match, he turned to his trusted target forward, who had already scored a clever goal to open up scoring in the match.

A couple of times, as played slowed down on his side of the field, Lilley brought Dikwa over for some intense instructions.

“Sometimes, things don’t go well. He’s always yelling something but he puts a high standard on me,” Dikwa explained when asked about what Lilley could have possibly said to his leading scorer.

“Sometimes I am like, I know I am wrong, but let me go. But, Bob knows what he’s doing. And I trust him.  And I love having him as my coach.”

Sure enough, Dikwa was provided a golden scoring chance late in the match, as Luke Biasi’s clearance came as Loudoun had pushed a lot of numbers forward.

Dikwa was off to the races.

Many times during the course of his development as a player, Dikwa may have fumbled the opportunity to put the match away.

“Let me tell you, that’s the most difficult position for a striker, that one versus one,” Dikwa said.

Now a veteran, Dikwa showed what a cold-blooded scoring leader looks like in this sequence.

“”It’s about experience.  You have a thousand shots in your head. I missed many last year and even last week.  I was just trying to control myself there and make a good decision, make eye contact with the keeper, fake him and put it in.”

And when he was subbed out in extra time, Dikwa stepped off the pitch, and got another earful from coach Lilley, who was still giving some pointers.  There may have been a pat on the back too in that exchange.

“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.”

By putting in the work, and dealing with everything that’s come his way, Dikwa is in position to cement his status as an important player in the history of the Riverhounds organization by fulfilling his coach’s prophecy.

His best has come in recent seasons, and there’s good reason to believe that he’ll keep getting better.

While he’s leading the league in scoring, the only thing that truly matters to Dikwa is his team’s success and the brotherhood that he’s developed with his teammates.

“For me, it’s about the family.  They’re my brothers. We’re always ready to go to war,” Dikwa said on Saturday after reclaiming lead in the race for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot.

“When you (personally) achieve success, everyone can have success, and that’s most important to 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).

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