Riverhounds Announce First Roster Moves for 2024
PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC has picked up their team option on seven players for 2024, bringing their total number of players under contract to 11 as preparations for the upcoming USL Championship season are well under way.
Longtime Hounds defender/midfielder Dani Rovira will be back for a sixth year with the club, while the other six players will all be entering their second year in Pittsburgh. Forward/wing back Langston Blackstock, midfielders Junior Etou and DZ Harmon, and defenders Mike DeShields, Pat Hogan and Illal Osumanu all had their options picked up for the new year.
Those players join the four who were already under contract for 2024: forward Edward Kizza and midfielders Kenardo Forbes, Danny Griffin and Robbie Mertz.
The group of 11 already is the largest retained from the previous season under coach Bob Lilley, and one of the largest in club history, as the team looks for continuity from its successful 2023 season in which it won the USL Championship Players' Shield for the first time.
About the returning players
- Blackstock, 23, a second-year pro out of Clayton State (Ga.) came to the Hounds forward but found his niche as a rookie playing as a forward-pressing wing back in Lilley's system. He appeared in 24 matches as a first-year pro and recorded two assists.
- DeShields, 25, appeared in 11 matches and recorded one assist from his center back position. He also played a key role in the Hounds' run to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, playing all but three minutes in wins over the New England Revolution - his former club - and the Columbus Crew.
- Etou, 29, brought experience and a high work rate to the Hounds as a midfielder and left back last season. A Congolese native who played seven seasons in the French leagues, Etou played 27 matches for the Hounds and had three assists and one goal - the fastest in team history at just 21 seconds into a 2-0 win over Charleston.
- Forbes, 35, is the Hounds' captain and longest-tenured player entering his seventh season in Pittsburgh. The native of Jamaica was named to the USL Championship All-League Second Team in 2023, the seventh All-USL nod of his career, after becoming the first in league history with back-to-back 10-assist seasons. He remains the career leader in assists in both Riverhounds and USL Championship history, and he is three games away from tying the club's appearances record of 195 games played.
- Griffin, 25, enters his fifth season with the Hounds having never missed a league match in his 116 games in Pittsburgh. The durable midfielder returned to the Hounds in May last season via a transfer from Huntsville City of MLS Next Pro, and he started all 26 matches after rejoining the club. He had a goal and an assist last year in USL play, but the Connecticut native's biggest moment was scoring the lone goal in the Hounds' 1-0 U.S. Open Cup win over the New England Revolution.
- Harmon, 27, scored one goal in seven matches after joining the team as a free agent coming from Charleston. He also started all four matches in the team's U.S. Open Cup run, and in September, he made his international debut for Liberia, assisting the Lone Stars' only goal in a 3-1 loss to African powerhouse Ghana.
- Hogan, 26, was a mainstay in an effective center back rotation for the Hounds that helped the team lead the league with 15 shutouts. Also arriving as a free agent previously with Charleston, he had one assist in 26 matches and finished the year third on the team with 58 clearances.
- Kizza, 24, just completed his first year under a permanent deal with the Hounds, scoring four goals in 29 games and adding another in U.S. Open Cup play. The Ugandan forward who starred at the University of Pittsburgh first came to the team on loan from the New England Revolution in 2021, and he became a Hounds' fan favorite after his two-goal game in that year's playoff win at Birmingham.
- Mertz, 27, will be entering his fifth season across two stints with the Hounds after an injury-interrupted season in which he scored two goals and contributed the decisive assist in the U.S. Open Cup win over the Columbus Crew. A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Upper St. Clair High School, Mertz is tied for eighth in club history with 14 assists - he finished tied for fourth in the league in 2022 playing for both Atlanta and Pittsburgh - and his next appearance with be his 100th with the Hounds.
- Osumanu, 27, came to the Hounds as a former USL League One champion with Union Omaha and played vital minutes, despite the Ghanaian native missing early-season time while obtaining his visa. The defender appeared in nine league matches and scored a memorable first goal for the Hounds, a stoppage-time game-winning header against San Diego.
- Rovira, 26, is the second-longest serving Hounds player as he enters his sixth year with the club. Known for his versatility playing either outside back spot, and - as matchups dictate - in the midfield or at center back, Rovira played 26 matches last season and recorded five assists. His 13 assists since joining the club are the most in team history by a defender, and in 2023, the Colombian native scored his first professional goal, a game-tying strike in a come-from-behind win over Memphis.
With those 11 players returning, the Hounds declined their option on eight players, allowing them to enter free agency along with six other players whose contracts expired at the end of the season.
The club continues to have ongoing negotiations with free agents who were part of the 2023 Players' Shield-winning team, in addition to players from outside the club, as it prepares to build on last season's success entering 2024.
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