The Pitt men’s soccer team couldn’t manage a single goal Tuesday night, dropping a match to their out-of-conference neighbor to the west, No. 14 Akron, 3-0.
The Panthers (8-8-0, 2-5-0 ACC) couldn’t keep up with the Zips (11-3-1, 2-1 MAC) in their second-to-last game of the regular season on a chilly and drizzly evening at Ambrose Urbanic Field Tuesday night.
“It was the perfect storm tonight,” Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich said. “That puts you on your heels for sure.”
Before the game even started, the Panthers faced adverse circumstances. Junior midfielder Javi Perez and redshirt first-year Tim Ekpone, both regular starters, could not play this match because of NCAA disciplinary standards. Perez earned his fifth yellow card of the season in the team’s previous match against Virginia, while Ekpone received a red card.
Pitt started the game unfocused, allowing the Zips to score their first shot just two minutes into the game.
Akron redshirt senior Manuel Cordeiro found a gap in the Pitt defense and sailed a pass into enemy territory. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Mikal Outcalt raced out to clear the ball, but Zip sophomore forward Nick Hinds beat him by a step to chip the ball into the net as the two collided.
The Panther defense settled down after that, and only allowed one more shot on goal for the remainder of the half — a free kick from first-year Joao Moutinho, which Outcalt swatted away for his lone save of the first frame.
Pitt sophomore forward Josh Coan broke away for a one-on-one chance at the goalie in the 19th minute, but failed to convert. Akron’s lanky, 6-foot-6 junior goalkeeper Ben Lundt thwarted another potential equalizer with a diving save on first-year Colin Brezniak’s shot in the 22nd minute.
Things got dicey near the end of the half, though, as Akron redshirt junior Ezana Kahsay received a yellow card for taking down senior Bryce Cregan. When Pitt trainers came out to provide water for the injured Cregan, Kahsay took one of the water bottles, prompting a hostile confrontation between several players.
Cregan, who started every game for Pitt this season, would miss the remainder of the contest, dealing the Panthers another devastating blow.
The half ended with a vital Pitt man down and the Zips up, 1-0.
Despite the one-goal deficit, Pitt’s offense matched the production of its opponent, as both teams finished the half with five shots.
For the first thirty minutes of the second half, Akron bullied Pitt’s defense. They put eight shots on goal but couldn’t work their way into the net, as Outcalt kept the Panthers in the game with five saves.
However, the Zips finally broke through Pitt’s fatigued back line and got a clean look in the 78th minute when redshirt sophomore Skye Harter maneuvered his way into the box and blew a kick past Outcalt from point-blank range, extending the lead to 2-0.
Akron put the game out of reach just three minutes later when Hinds scored his second goal of the game off an assist from senior forward Stuart Holthusen. The score put the Zips up 3-0 with only eight minutes left to play.
Pitt’s offense failed to register a shot on goal for the remainder of the contest, and first-year forward Alexander Dexter provided a foot-save in the 84th minute to prevent a four-point deficit.
Pitt certainly suffered from the absences of Perez, Ekpone and first-year midfielder Marcony Pimentel, as well as the injury to Cregan. The Panthers were outshot 17-10, and managed a mere three shots on goal. Brezniak paced the Panthers’ offensive effort with two of those shots on goal.
The Panthers will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies at home this Friday — in their last game of the regular season — in the hopes of qualifying for post-season and ACC tournament play. The senior night match is set to start under the lights at 7 p.m.
“It’s a do-or-die,” Vidovich said. “Virginia Tech’s in the same boat we are. They need a result to be up for an NCAA at-large bid, and so do we.”