Connect with us

Hounds Notebook

Riverhounds Notebook: ‘The Jet’ Junior Etou has become ‘a problem’ for defenders in newfound role on left wing

The Riverhounds will be playing consecutive matches in the same week against the same side for the first time since the end of last season, when they faced Detroit City FC in the final match of the regular season, then turned around to face DCFC in the opening match of the playoff round — as the Hounds will look to rebound from a disappointing and uninspired 1-0 loss to FC Tulsa by a lineup of players who mostly have seen few starts this season in the Round of 32 of Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Tuesday night, before a disappointing — but somewhat expected crowd of 1,684.

Rotated Hounds fall to Tulsa in 2024 Open Cup debut

Also be sure to check out Mark Goodman’s reaction piece to Tuesday’s match too…

Oh Drat: A Hounds US Open Cup Instant Reaction

Now, the two sides will run it back in Oklahoma with the stakes changing as the Hounds look to keep their five match unbeaten streak in league play going, while taking on another Western Conference foe on the road.

In recent years — the only other time the Hounds have played an opponent so quickly in back-to-back matches — Pittsburgh defeated Indy Eleven in the Open Cup on a Wednesday night at Highmark Stadium in late May 2019 – remember this Hounds fans…

A few days later, they turned around to play the Eleven at Lucas Oil Stadium, losing 2-1, in a pretty wild affair.

The Hounds will train Thursday in Pittsburgh, then head Westward again for travel day on Friday.

Look for more to come from Colton as he’ll be visiting Hounds training on Thursday — and of course — we’ll have an updated preview of Tulsa for Saturday’s match to come too.

One thing we can confirm from Thursday’s training, is that both Kazaiah Sterling and EJ Johnson, after their ‘knocks’ in matches — should be available.

Heavily Rotated Squad Under Performs

As both Colton Coreschi and Mark Goodman reported from Highmark on Tuesday, Bob Lilley came through on his promise of rotating his squad this week for the Open Cup match.  However, in year’s past under Lilley, the Hounds always sprinkled in some starters here and there into the starting eleven for the opening rounds of the Open Cup.

Looking closer, core starters and veterans Edward Kizza, Dani Rovira, Pat Hogan, Robbie Mertz, Mike DeShields and Danny Griffin all started this match on the bench.  Among those who didn’t even dress included Luke Biasi, Kenardo Forbes and Illal Osumanu.

Of the starting group (Gabriel Perrotta (GK), Sean Suber, Langston Blackstock, EJ Johnson, Aidan O’Toole, Bradley Sample, Nate Dragisich, Jake Kent-Loop, Babacar Diene, Jackson Walti, Pierre Cayet) on Tuesday night — only Blackstock, Sample, Diene, Suber and Walti were in at least one starting lineup this season.

As Mark pointed out in his column, the Riverhounds weren’t bad, per se — but they didn’t create enough quality chances in the final third. Sure, there were 15 shots — but just three on target (Tulsa had 11 shots with four on frame).

While they created more shots the  Hounds were outpossessed and Tulsa looked like the sharper side (Tulsa completed 80 passing to Pittsburgh’s 71 percent. Tulsa beat Pittsburgh 59 to 41 percent in possession too.

Ultimately, what stood out, was despite infusion from Danny Griffin and Junior Etou in the lineup in the second half — FC Tulsa’s most dangerous player on the pitch — Phil Goodrum came through when given one shot opportunity in the box late in the match.

What stood out in watching the tape, was a similar trend to what has ailed the Hounds first team in the early part of the season — inability to create quality chances and poor conversion rate on the chances they created.

While Emmanuel ‘EJ” Johnson stood out in his first-ever start in Pittsburgh, with his pace in open spaces along with his creativity to separate from defenders on the width, the 20 year-old who has already had stints with Charleston Battery, Edinburgh (Scottish League) and Austin FC II (MLSNexPro), left something to be desired when it came to finishing near goal.

At one point, breaking forward for a chance late in the first half after capitalizing on winning a ball at midfield, Johnson made a move left, then attempted a shot just has he came to the edge of the penalty box, which sailed left of the post.

Head Coach Bob Lilley wanted to see him do more than settle for difficult angled shot with defenders and keepers already in good position.

“Shooting from distance is not a forward’s skill, it’s a midfielder’s skill,” Lilley pointed out in his post match interview.

“For me the first half was a wasted half from an attack standpoint because we did not turn any turnovers into clear-cut chances, not one. Those are not clear-cut chances when their goalkeeper spills it. It’s a mistake.”

Johnson’s progress in a Hounds’ uniform will be very interesting.  If you recall, Albert Dikwa came to Pittsburgh with similar pedigree — having a few professional experiences as a teen.  Through his perseverance, and four years in Pittsburgh, Dikwa eventually emerged into the league’s best scorer.

As for the rest of the group, this was certainly a chance to show what they could do.  There were some positive moments for the other players, as Bradley Sample continues to show that he’s a viable addition to the center of the park, and Jackson Walti returned to the lineup with solid play alongside his former college rival.

But, as a whole, they failed to seize the moment.

As for the decision from the Hounds go all-in on a lineup that was still very much a work-in-progress, Lilley didn’t waver all that much from his past experiences of giving a lot of players that needed extended minutes the opportunity to step up.

Unfortunately, the result ended their chances of making another magical Open Cup run.

Junior the Jet’s Turning into Hounds’ Most Lethal Playmaker

Junior Etou advances into the final third in Riverhounds match vs The Miami FC on April 27, 2024 (Photo courtesy Ed Thompson)

In a season to this point where individual performances by Hounds players has been a bit all over the place, one player who has stood out thus far is veteran midfielder Junior Etou.

The soon-to-be 30 year old has been stellar so far this year after a shift from the central midfield to a wider, left winger position. There are times where he’s lining up as outside back in a five-man backline, and other times where he’s pushed up to the attacking three-line in the 4-2-3-1.

Etou began his pro career in France’s Lique2 for Béziers — and then in the USLC with Charlotte and Tampa Bay — where in four seasons scored just one goal and had two assists.

When he came to Pittsburgh as a hard-nosed, ball-winning central midfielder, who was essentially inserted as a key veteran at the start of 2023 to replace Griffin, who left for an opportunity with Nashville SC’s MSLNextPro club, Huntsville FC.  After an early season injury, when he broke his arm, then with the emergence of Marc Ybarra and the eventual return of Danny Griffin, Etou’s potential spot in the starting lineup was a bit in jeopardy.

Lilley though, couldn’t keep him out of the lineup, eventually finding a spot for him out wide, where he contributed a career high three assists in the season and one massive goal, just seconds into a key match against Eastern Conference and Old Guard Shield rival Charleston in June.

“Last year, I started by playing center mid, and when Danny Griffin came back, we had a conversation with the coaches who said ‘I think we can try you on the left wing, left wingback’ and I said why not?” Etou said.

“So we just tried around the end of last year – the last 10 games or so – and I like to play this way, you know? Whatever position I play, I just try to update him and give my best. So it’s good for me.”

“He’s done a good job of learning a new position, or adjusting to it. He knows what we want, and it’s not a surprise,” Lilley said.

Last year when we beat Louisville, he had the assist — and he had another big one when we clinched against Tampa.”

Even from the start of the season — which wasn’t great with Pittsburgh losing its first three — Etou was consistently a bright spot and nuisance for defenders on the left side.  You can go back to the Hounds first win at Phoenix and make a solid argument that he was the most dangerous player on the pitch that night in the desert.

Lilley has been very pleased Etou’s energy, effort and ability to create havoc in wide spaces.

The Congolese native has been involved in just about every Hounds’ goal this season — it seems.

He didn’t get credit for the assist but contributed to Pittsburgh’s first goal of the season at Louisville, when he picked off a pass, then found Babacar Diene who transitioned into the left edge of the box to set up Kizza to help the Hounds’ draw level in that match.

Then, in consecutive weeks, Etou drew fouls in the box that set up penalty kicks.

The first time, early in the second half at Phoenix, Kizza was fouled as he entered box on the left edge (where he’s been doing all his damage).  Unfortunately, Sterling couldn’t covert on the penalty chances.

Etou wasn’t done that night — as Kizza gave the Hounds the lead for good at the end of some good link-up passing in the 62nd minute but it was Etou who created the moment — as the veteran sent a sharp square ball across the face of goal for Kizza, who netted his second goal of the season. Etou again — late in that match — created havoc working the left side. His pass toward Danny Griffin was met by two Phoenix defenders in the box, but the ball deflected into the path of Diene, who scored his first professional goal and sealed the three points.

Against Detroit, with the Hounds nursing a 1-0 lead late in the first half, Etou lived up to the nickname given to him by Lilley — The Jet — when he was fouled when he came flying into the box — earning another PK opportunity for the Hounds. This time, Danny Griffin did convert on the chance provided by Etou.


A week later, this past Saturday, in the Hounds’ 1-0 win vs The Miami FC, Etou added to his highlight reel to the season with a run up the left endline that included a nutmeg — and perfectly placed ball into the center of the box for Sterling.

“He’s fast, he’s a problem. Even the one he mishit with his right foot in the second-half ended up being a scramble because he got high, he cut inside and caused panic in defenders,” Lilley said in praise of Etou after Saturday’s win.

“Sometimes he’s got to be able to slow down and get his body under control, but he’s a weapon. He’s done a good job of learning a new position, or adjusting to it. He knows what we want, and it’s not a surprise. Last year when we beat Louisville, he had the assist when we clinched against Tampa, so there were plenty of games last year where he can unlock.”

Now, Lilley wants the work-in-progress group of forwards to increase their movement so they can convert on chances being provided by the Hounds’ biggest playmaker to this point in the season.

“You know we need more from forwards in the first half. They want to post up. I don’t know why they want to post up. Every time we played a straight ball, they lost – they need to spin out, Lilley demanded.

“But they didn’t have the energy to defend, so I’m sure they didn’t have the energy to make an actual run. Nothing opens up because there’s no movement. It shouldn’t be a situation where the only one that’s threatening the back line is your wing back. And that happens far too often.”

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).

Click to comment
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Glory on the Grass

PSN’s Featured Community Partner: Open Field International

Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

Subscribe to PGH Soccer Now

Enter your email address to subscribe to PGH Soccer Now and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More in Hounds Notebook