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Riverhounds Notebook: With scoring woes at new low-water mark, can Enoch Mushagalusa make an impact?

The Riverhounds are not scoring goals and as a result, they’ve hit a low point in the Bob Lilley era as Head Coach (since 2018), as the club is currently mired in an eight match winless streak following its latest results from a three-match in eight day stretch that included losses at Hartford, at home vs front-running Louisville City FC, then culminating with a scoreless road draw at North Carolina.

This week the Hounds (3w-6l-7d, 15 points) are back into a more traditional training regiment, as they prepare for another road match in Las Vegas (Saturday night, 10:30 ET), before an extended four-match homestand to come in July.

Despite their struggles, which are also outlined in more detail below, the Hounds are fortunate to be just three points off the playoff line as the top eight teams qualify for the postseason in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference.

With 18 matches remaining, they are very much in the thick of things, and have time to turn their season around.

Lilley believes that his club will have to create its own luck as they prepare to take on a Las Vegas squad that features a former Pitt standout, Valentin Noel, as their top scorer.

Look for more to come this week on Noel, and the match-up with Vegas, who are also in similar position as Pittsburgh in the Western Conference standings, just outside of the playoff line.

Backline Tested Last Week

In terms of organization and structure out of the back, and play through the midfield and using the wide channels, the Hounds put forth a very solid performance at North Carolina in what turned out to be a tough match to watch with few scoring chances for either side.  Neither side could put a single shot on frame until late in the match, but a silver lining for the Hounds in this match — they were the more ambitious side in the final third, and by the end of the match, had the only two shots on frame, coming in back-to-back sequences in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

Despite a heavy rotation with its goalkeepers this season, as Eric Dick, Gabe Perrotta and now Jacob Randolph have each had their chances to get extended chances to start between the pipes, the Hounds have been pretty solid defending, surrendering 17 goals in 16 matches, including six clean sheets.

It’s not the standard set in the Hounds best seasons under Lilley, in 2019 and last year, but thanks to its defensive play, things have not spiraled completely out of whack for the Hounds.

The back line also went through significant rotation last week, but showed its depth, as the most veteran member of the last line, Pat Hogan, went down with a head injury on Wednesday, and then also re-opened his wound in Saturday’s match, while Luke Biasi, who has also logged a lot of starts and minutes was sent off late on Wednesday, and had to sit out Saturday’s match.  The rotation of center backs filling in, including Illal Osumanu and Sean Suber starting, while Pierre Cayet did well off the bench.

Lilley apparently has lots of confidence in this current group, so much so that he was willing to move a player who contributed a lot last season, Mike DeShields. The defender began the season as a starter, but since a first-half injury in the first match, DeShields had not seen his way back to the mix, and was included in completing a transfer deal with Hartford late last week.

Despite the losses to Hartford and Louisville, in three matches and 270 minutes, the Hounds back line depth was tested, and allowing three goals in three matches showed that overall they’re holding their own.

Hounds Scoring Drought Reaching New Low-Water Mark

It’s been a rough beat to share the same old story after almost each match this season, as the Hounds goal-scoring drought has reached new depths of which we haven’t seen in Pittsburgh not only in the Bob Lilley era (since 2018) but in the entire Highmark Stadium era.

Here’s where things stand — and it’s not pretty.

They’re dead last in goals scored (11), with the next closest team being Hartford (13) and they’re the only team in the 24-team league that has a conversion rate below double-digits (8%).  By comparison, the Hounds finished with 50 goals last season (good for 9th in the league) and conversion rate of 18 percent.  This year’s league leaders, Louisville, have already scored 42 goals (!) and have a 23 percent conversion rate.

In 16 league matches, the Hounds have been shut out 10 times.

For some further historical context, here’s a look at Hounds’ regular season goal scoring totals through 17 matches of the previous eleven seasons in the Highmark Stadium era plus 2012.

  • 2023 – 22
  • 2022 – 27
  • 2021 – 27
  • 2020 – 39 (only played 16 game regular season)
  • 2019 – 29
  • 2018 – 21
  • 2017 – 19
  • 2016 – 15
  • 2015 – 35
  • 2014 – 18
  • 2013 – 25
  • 2012 – 15
  • 2011 – 11

This is the lowest output for the Hounds through this many games since 2011, when the Hounds finished 7w-12l-6d in a 24 match regular season.

Can Enoch Mushagalusa Have An Impact?

As part of the transfer deal that sent DeShields to Hartford, the Hounds address an area of immediate need, picking up another option at forward, taking a flyer by picking up Enoch Mushagalusa.

Looking for spark in final third Riverhounds add forward Enoch Mushagalusa on loan from Hartford

The 24-year old brings a solid pedigree and tangible skills as he’s a player who can make an impact with this current Hounds squad that’s having major issues in finishing in the final third.

Prior to Hartford, Mushagalusa has been well-traveled, but made most of his bones in the Championship with two solid seasons with Louisville City FC, where he scored 12 goals and had four assists in 53 regular-season appearances.  A native of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mushagalusa came to the U.S. as a youth player in the academy of the Colorado Rapids of MLS. In 2020, he signed his first pro deal with Sporting Kansas City II, then a USL Championship club, where he amassed nine goals and five assists in 43 games — earning that club’s 2021 Player of the Year honor.

Immediately after joining the Riverhounds, Mushagalusa was inserted into the Hounds starting lineup to face his former team last Wednesday, as the Hounds were in need of depth at forward, as both Kazaiah Sterling and Edward Kizza played a full 90 minutes at Hartford four nights earlier, and have continued to put in the work match-after-match, but with very little results to show for their efforts.  Sterling and Kizza have combined for 16 missed big chances this season, while each have scored three goals apiece.

Mushgalusa possesses traits Lilley cherishes — as a player who is technically sound and not afraid to take on defenders to create scoring chances – whether it’s for himself when moments come or setting up teammates as he’s posted nine career assists in league play. In addition, another attribute he adds is pace and ability to get behind defenders, which is something that has been a big part of what Albert Dikwa and Russell Cicerone did so well in Pittsburgh, under Lilley, in previous seasons.

“Enoch is a talented player with speed who excels in one-v-one duels,” Lilley said.

“He will help us in wide areas and as a second striker who is equally adept at scoring goals or creating chances for others.”

Despite their lousy scoring totals, the Hounds are among tops in the league in touches in the box.  It’s what they’re doing with those touches where they’ve come up short this season, especially lacking creativity off the dribble in the box.

When putting on his number 77 Riverhounds jersey and when he stepped foot on the pitch in Black and Gold for the first time last week, in just a few matches, Mushagalusa immediately became the team’s leader in shots per 90 (2.6) and shots on target per 90 minutes (1.5).

The next closest players in these categories are Kazaiah Sterling (2.0/1.0) and Babacar Diene (2.4/0.8).

In his first start in Pittsburgh, in the midweek match, he was used alongside promising first-year Hound E.J. Johnson as the forward combination, with mixed results.

His best chance on the match came early in the second half, after Louisville scored, by making a very strong run through the heart of the Louisville midfield and defense. However, deep into the final third, Mushagalusa’s right-footed effort went high, just a few feet from equalizing.

On Saturday at North Carolina, Mushagalusa came on for Kizza in the 75th minute.  To that point, Pittsburgh had yet to register a shot on frame.  That changed when Mushagalusa made his way into the right side of the box, creating some room from a sharp angle, to take a shot that was pushed away by NCFC keeper Jake McGuire.  One could make the point that Mushagalusa could have cut a pass back that would have led to an even better scoring chance.

At the least, the Hounds need to be more clinical in converting on their big chances (another stat where they’re are at the bottom of the league), and Mushagalusa has already shown that he’s going to be aggressive and sniffing for goals when he has the ball at his feet in and around the box.

Ideally, the way things are going, the Hounds could use someone to catch lightning in the bottle when it comes to scoring goals.  Mushagalusa has done that a few times in his pro career, scoring a hat trick in 2022 with Louisville, and also had a pair of braces.  With SKC in 2021, he scored five goals in a six-match stretch.

Mushagalusa, when at his peak with Louisville started in 23 of the team’s 32 regular season matches in 2022 — including playing in 120-plus minutes of that infamous playoff classic against the Riverhounds – so he’s also shown another important trait Lilley wants from his forward — durability and work rate.

The Hounds should do everything they can to give Mushagalusa, who has been waiting for this opportunity again since his very productive 2022 season in Louisville, every chance he can get to help turn things around in the final third.

After all, they don’t have anything else to lose.

Riverhounds Announce Hall of Fame Class of 2024

The club will keep its tradition of adding new members to its Hall of Fame this year, as they announced that three new members – Paul Child, Randy Dedini and Gary DePalma — will be inducted in a few weeks.

When you build a Mt. Rushmore for Pittsburgh soccer, you would almost have to consider Paul Child in that conversation.

Already built a US Soccer Hall of Fame career from his exploits in NASL with San Jose Earthquakes and other clubs, Child established himself as one of the top — and most popular — players for the indoor Pittsburgh Spirit.

When the Hounds were established before the 1999 season, Child became an assistant under original head coach John Kowalski and served in that role for the team’s first four seasons, later returning for a second stint on the staff of his longtime friend and fellow Hall of Famer, Gene Klein. Child and Klein continued to work together after leaving the Hounds’ bench, becoming known to newer fans in the Highmark Stadium era as the analysts on Hounds streaming and television broadcasts from 2013-19.

Dedini and DePalma are also synonymous with the early Riverhounds era and true trailblazers.  DePalma joined the team from the start as one of the local players the club would build around, and the former Upper St Clair star became a model of consistency in the midfield for five seasons, from 1999-2004.  Dedini provided a new franchise with leadership and stability in the back, as a veteran keeper who kept things under control on the defensive end and during an era when the MLS-Style shootout was a thing, helped steer some deadlocked matches in the Hounds’ favor  makign some key saves/stops in shootout wins.  As of 2024, Dedini still holds the team records for wins by a goalkeeper (57), shutouts (29), games played by a goalkeeper (125) and most saves in a single season (136 in 1999).

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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