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Former Riverhounds scoring leader Albert Dikwa remains in top form with new Rhode Island FC ‘family’

Photo courtesy Rhode Island FC

For Pittsburgh soccer fans, and probably for a number of the current Riverhounds players, it’s going to feel pretty strange to see Albert Dikwa wearing a different shade of black and gold when the Hounds face Dikwa’s new club, Rhode Island FC, on Saturday night in Smithfield, R.I.

Last season, Albert Dikwa peaked as a player in his fourth season in Pittsburgh, which proved to be a culmination of a four-year odyssey where target forward rounded into the league’s top scorer.

The now 26-year old forward from Cameroon had to battle through challenges in his early years in Pittsburgh.  Whether it was his first contract year in the Steel City cut short by COVID-19 pandemic, injuries and set-backs that kept him out of the starting eleven, Dikwa’s perseverance always impressed Head Coach Bob Lilley.

When Lilley and the Riverhounds re-signed Dikwa after his first two-year contract had expired, despite some of those aforementioned setbacks, the veteran coach was resolute in his belief in Dikwa, as a player and as a person.

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.”

Lilley’s words and evaluation proved prophetic. Dikwa’s determination eventually paid dividends, both individually, and for his club, capped by a monumental season in 2023, as he became the USL Championship’s Player of the Year, scoring 20 league goals (plus one in the US Open Cup) and the Hounds ended the season by earning the club’s first-ever USL Championship Players Shield.

In his breakout season, Dikwa was always quick to redirect any praise and credit to Lilley and his teammates.

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

“For me, it’s about the family.  They’re my brothers. We’re always ready to go to war,” Dikwa said after scoring two goals after reclaiming lead in the race for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot last September vs Loudoun United FC.

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

This season, Dikwa has carried those core principles into his new soccer ‘family’ in Rhode Island, where he reunited with an old friend in RIFC’s Head Coach Khano Smith.

Six years earlier, the Cameroonian first came stateside to play for Orlando City B (then of the USL Championship) in his first season as a professional.

It was in Orlando where Dikwa first met Smith, who worked in the same building as an assistant coach with Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The long-standing relationship eventually inspired a new challenge for the veteran striker in 2024.

“We shared the same meal room, same locker room,” Smith, Rhode Island FC’s Head Coach and General Manager, said recently.

“The coaches shared the same office side of the building, so there was quite a bit of interaction. Chico was always a pleasant, respectful kid and he’s still that person today. He’s very humble, friendly and warm. So, I think those interactions sometimes go a long way with people.”

After plenty of offseason video calls and discussions, despite a number of other offers which included the Riverhounds best efforts to retain their first league Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner since 2013, Dikwa chose to sign with Rhode Island FC.

Inspired by Smith’s visions for the club, his desired style of play and the trust the two shared, Dikwa had no doubt he would easily adjust to life in the Ocean State.

When Dikwa announced he would not be returning to Pittsburgh, he left behind an emotional message.

Thus far, Dikwa’s been in solid form with Rhode Island, as the only player who has scored for the expansion side, with three goals.

Like the Riverhounds, RIFC are without a win this season, but have posted three draws and one loss (4-1 set back coming in their last match at Tampa Bay).

The hosts have drawn both their home matches thus far at their temporary home — the team will move into a permanent stadium of its own in Pawtucket in 2025 — taking a 1-1 draw with New Mexico in their inaugural match on March 16 and staying resolute last weekend to earn an impressive 0-0 draw with Eastern Conference co-leaders Charleston.

Dikwa’s first two goals came in a  2-2 draw vs Monterey Bay.

The brace was the first in RIFC history, and Chico’s seventh multi-goal match in the last two seasons. The performance also earned him a spot on the USL Championship Team of the Week.

“To be honest, it’s kind of a dream,” Dikwa pointed out.

“When I signed with Rhode Island FC, I was saying in my mind, ‘Chico, you have to be the first player, you have to make history.’ In my head, when I scored that goal, I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.’ I just wanted to make history with my teammates and I’m really happy to already be part of the club’s story.”

Another goal came in a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on March 30.

Dikwa is clearly adapting well to his new environment in Rhode Island.

“It’s always easy when you have good players around you, and for me, we’re playing a high level of football,” Dikwa said recently.

“It’s a change, but it’s not that big of a difference because I’m around people who know football. This coaching staff knows what they are doing. They were former players. They’ve played at a high level. And having so many good players around you, it makes my job easy.”

Instead of looking to Dikwa to score goals, the Hounds, coming off their first clean sheet of the season against Tampa Bay,  and still looking for their first win, will be focused on shutting down a player who has meant a lot to the club and has established many lasting friendships and bonds with players and staff in Pittsburgh.

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

The one thing that Dikwa and the Hounds did so well last season was find ways to make their mark early in matches and jump ahead on teams.  Pittsburgh boasted 17-0-2 record when scoring first, as Dikwa contributed 11 of those opening goals.

That’s an area where the Hounds have been sorely lacking this season — scoring early in matches.  Pittsburgh has yet to score an opening goal this season, and has only scored once, in four matches.

Despite his three goals, Dikwa and his new club are in the same position as the Hounds — still searching for their first win of the 2024 season.

While it’s still early in the season, the first match-up between the Riverhounds and their recent Golden Boot winner/Player of the Year recipient, carries plenty of intrigue.

There no doubt that as a consummate pro, Dikwa, remains focused on the big picture — even if he does have some extra motivation in playing against his former teammates and coaches.

“For me, it’s about how you want to keep growing in your game,” Dikwa said.

“I’m only 26 and still have a lot to learn. The coaching staff here is so experienced and I’m excited to keep learning from them every day.”

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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