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‘Transforming’ Riverhounds have ‘a lot of work to do’

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds have reached the third week of the preseason as a team Head Coach Bob Lilley described as ‘transforming’ and has ‘a lot of work to do’.

Only three weeks into the preseason, statements like this from Lilley or any other coach for that matter, are not out of the ordinary. After all, it’s been a late Winter, early Spring ritual for the Riverhounds to use this time to come together and let everything take shape.

What will be interesting to see though, is to see how the team evolves in terms of tactics and with its personnel in three key areas: target forward/wide attackers, back line and goalkeeping. The tactics will always be evolving, from match-to-match, as long as Lilley is at the helm, but how much will the Hounds change their approach as they adapt to personnel remains to be seen.

Lilley and his coaching staff had a chance to see a bit more from their 19 rostered players, plus the additional trialists who have been with the team since training camp began January 29, as the Hounds took on two fellow USL Championship opponents, Indy Eleven and Loudoun United FC, last week.

The team will conclude this week with a preseason match vs West Virginia’s men’s soccer team, which reached the College Cup in 2023, at Highmark Stadium, on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Pittsburgh played Indy to a scoreless draw at Highmark Stadium, with both teams coming close a few times, but ultimately the rust in the final third showed for both sides, as described in Matthew Baldwin’s post match report.

“I think we were wasteful in the box, there were a lot of balls where we should have been able to get a shot off. To have that many balls bounce in and around the box and not convert was disappointing… The good is that we were in the mix. I’d like to see us get better pressure on the ball, I thought they had free service all day and we did defend well in our box… but the pressure on the ball for me wasn’t good enough.”

“We have a pretty good core, so we’re transforming a little bit, but I don’t feel we’ll ever lose our identity. We want to make teams uncomfortable. We will have an intensity to our play. It’s hard to expect top-end intensity on the first preseason game when you’re still looking at trialists. There are some good things, but we have a lot of work to do. I’m optimistic from this performance that it’s a good starting point.”

On Friday, after a four-plus hour bus ride to Northern Virginia, the Hounds were behind the eight-ball a bit in the early going against what appears to be an improved Loudoun United FC squad.

Despite trailing 1-0, the Hounds turned things up a notch, scoring once in the first half and again in the second half to come away with a 2-1 win.

“I was really happy in the second half with how we played the first 25 minutes, but then we held on at the end. There were a lot of subs in the game at the end, and they had a lot of service into our box,” Lilley said.

Robbie Mertz and Babacar Diene were the goal scorers for Pittsburgh, with Mertz converting a penalty kick and Diene getting to a ball after making a run to the far side of the box.

In Lilley’s view, the second match provided a good challenge for his club. Facing some adversity, the Hounds responded in a positive way.

“Loudoun is a good team, and they always give us problems here. They’ve added some good players — (former Hounds) Robby Dambrot and Christiano (François), Drew Skundrich from Colorado Springs, and Florian Valot from Miami. They’ve got some real good talent,” Lilley explained.

“It’s a positive that we went on the road and got a result, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to get to the level we need to be at for 90 minutes.”

Remaining Roster Spots are Up For Grabs, but what are the Hounds’ biggest needs?

More experience, pace and dynamic options up top and out wide on the attack…  At first glance, this is a team currently lacking a target forward with scoring pedigree at this level and play making attackers with pace.  Edward Kizza is currently the most experienced forward signed to the roster, while two current, listed trialists are the respective leading all-time scorers for the respective USL League One (Third Division) clubs they played for in recent seasons.

Back line has decent depth, but…    While there are three holdovers from last year who can step in and play center back (Pat Hogan, Illal Osumanu and Mike DeShields) as well as three returnees who handled the duties as outside backs/wingers (Dani Rovira, Luke Biasi and Langston Blackstock),  there are still some question marks about chemistry and how the newcomers (Jake Lent-Koop, Pierre Cayet and Sean Suber), will fit in with this group. Could this group use another outside back?

Goalkeeper competition pits three newcomers…   The Hounds currently have a veteran (Eric Dick) and a first-year pro (Jacob Randolph) already signed, while also looking at another youngster for the third keeper spot.  PSN’s Colton Coreschi had more on the goalkeeping competition that has been going on in camp last week.

Goalkeeper competition gets underway with new trio as preseason kicks off

With the 19 rostered players, and based on the way the lineups rolled out for the first two matches, here’s a projection of the Hounds’ depth chart, to date (see below).


Defenders (8) 
Pat Hogan
Dani Rovira
Mike DeShields
Luke Biasi

Illal Osumanu
Pierre Cayet (New Addition) (New England Revolution II/MLS Next Pro)
Sean Super (New Addition) (Huntsville City FC/MLS Next Pro)

Jake Lent-Koop (New Addition) (Messiah/Division III)

Midfielders (6)
Danny Griffin
Junior Etou
Kenardo Forbes
Robbie Mertz
Jackson Walti (New Addition) (Austin FC II/Colorado Rapids II/MLS Next Pro)
Bradley Sample (New Addition) (Louisville/Division I)

Forwards (3)

Edward Kizza

Langston Blackstock
Babacar Diene (New Addition) (Rider/Division I)

Goalkeepers (2)
Eric Dick (New Addition) (Minnesota United/MLS)
Jacob Randolph (New Addition) (UNCW/Division I)


Non-Roster Invitees (6)

*list subject to change 

As for the trialists still with the club this week, the list has been narrowed to six very intriguing prospects:

  • Nate Dragisich (MF) — former West Allegheny and Duquesne University standout looking to land with his hometown club.
  • EJ Johnson (MF / F) — a 20-year old from Fairfield, CA, who grew up playing with Sacramento Republic academy, Johnson signed a 3 1/2 half year deal with Scottish club Hibernian, but was immediately loaned to Charleston Battery in 2022, and Austin FC II in 2023.  He made 13 appearances with Charleston (1 goal) and 21 with Austin.  You may recall Albert Dikwa had a similar path, in that he played with a U.S. Academy (Orlando City B) and had picked up USL Championship level experience as a teen. Johnson also made 12 appearances with Scottish League One club Edinburgh.
  • Markus Naglestad (F)– the Hounds strategy as they look to replace Albert Dikwa, is to possibly bring up a few forwards who have excelled at lower divisions like USL League One and NISA.  Naglestad is a prime example of this — as he became Chattanooga FC’s all-time leading scorer in recent years (53 goals in 76 matches), earn the league’s MVP in 2022, and won the league’s Golden Boot in 2023.
  • Aidan O’Toole (MF) — like Dragisich, O’Toole is a straight out of college a box-to-box midfielder who can score and serve as a quality playmaker (five goals and 11 assists in 87 career matches for NCAA tournament regular University of Denver).
  • Gabriel Perrotta (GK) — the only remaining non-roster invitee who is a goalkeeper, a Native of Paraguay, Perrotta is vying for the third goalkeeper spot on the roster.  Perrotta was an instrumental part of Marshall University team that reached top United Soccer Coaches Ranking, won ultra competitive Sun Belt Conference and was the number one overall seed in the 2023 NCAA Men’s Tournament.  Perrotta played at University of North Carolina-Wilmington prior to transferring to Marshall as a graduate student.
  • Kazaiah Sterling (F) — the Enfield, England native, 25 year-old former Tottenham prospect has most recently excelled the past two years to emerge as the all-time leading goal scorer for South Georgia Tormenta.

Look for more from Riverhounds training later this week from PSN contributor, Matthew Baldwin, plus we will have coverage of the scrimmage on Sunday from Highmark Stadium.


Riverhounds Remaining Preseason Schedule


Sun. 18        West Virginia                    2 p.m.
Sat. 24         Pitt                                      4 p.m.


Sat. 2            Louisville City FC            1 p.m.



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).

Glory on the Grass

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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