Kizza & Co. to elevate Pitt men’s soccer in 2019


Bader Abdulmajeed | Senior Staff Photographer

In his first season Edward Kizza (9) made the 2017 All-ACC Freshman team after scoring four goals and making three assists in 15 games.

By Dominic Campbell, Senior Staff Writer

With Friday’s upcoming game at No. 2 Indiana, the Pitt men’s soccer team begins its 2019 campaign with the hope of achieving new heights in the rising program.

Last year’s team saw the same ACC record, 2-6, as in 2017, but the 2018 Panthers did earn their first ACC tournament win with a 2-0 upset over Virginia, putting them in the quarterfinals. Pitt also came close to making the semifinals, forcing a good Duke team all the way to penalty kicks where it eventually lost.

The 2019 team comes in with a lot of experience, but also a lot of questions. One of the Panthers’ biggest concerns will be their defense. Pitt lost five seniors from the back line and just four defenders are returning from last year’s team, only three of whom received significant playing time.

Pitt’s greatest strength undoubtedly comes at the forward position. The most important attacker for the Panthers will be junior Ugandan forward Edward Kizza. In his first season, Kizza made the 2017 All-ACC Freshman Team after tallying four goals and three assists in 15 games, 14 of which he started.

He broke out in a big way last season and was recognized nationally for his efforts. His 15 goals were tied for third best in program history and fifth best in the NCAA. Kizza also ranked ninth in the NCAA in shot accuracy at .622 and 13th in total points with 30 — fifth best in program history. He led the conference in those three categories, earning him a spot on the 2018 All-ACC First Team.

Joining him in the Pitt offensive attack will be fellow junior forward Alexander Dexter. A 2017 All-ACC Freshman like Kizza, Dexter started 15 games and appeared in 17 as a first-year, and started 13 and played in 18 last season. He was a quality sidekick to Kizza in 2018, leading the Panthers with five assists and nine points.

First-year forwards Luke Mort and Josh Hesson could potentially see some time as well this season, especially Hesson, who had two assists in the win against Duquesne. Still, Kizza and Dexter will be the ones to lead the offense and they could bring the team to new heights if everything goes to plan.

On defense, Pitt maintains continuity at the right and left back positions as sophomore defenders Chandler Vaughn and Nyk Sessock started most games as first-years in 2018. Vaughn’s performance even got him onto the All-ACC Freshman Team and his play, along with Sessock’s, will be crucial to how well the team defends this season.

The bigger concern is the middle of the defense. The former seniors in that position — Robby Dambrot, Shane Wiedt and Peter Prescott — who helped give the team five shutouts last season have graduated. Junior defender Sito Sena, who started all 19 games last season, could be moved into the center back position, but he also has the ability to come forward and play more of a defensive midfield role.

It will be interesting to see how Pitt’s new defenders, junior Rutgers transfer Bryce Washington and first-year Spaniard Arturo Ordonez, could be used at the center back position, as both players provide good size at 6 feet 2 inches. First-year defender Sebastian Serpa will look to provide depth to the defense and redshirt freshman defender Anthony Harding could see some time as well.

A lot is still left uncertain about midfield, save the presence of sophomore midfielder Jackson Walti, who stands to be the main central midfielder this season after starting 16 of 19 games last year.

The team will feel the loss of 2017 and 2018 Second Team All-ACC midfielder Javi Perez, who was selected in the MLS Superdraft by LAFC this offseason. They also have to replace midfielder Marcony Pimentel, who started 14 and played in 15 games before transferring to UCLA in the offseason.

One returning player that could have a major impact is sophomore Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo Almeida, who only appeared in 11 games but showed bright spots in his first season. Senior midfielder Alex Peperak may also see playing time, but his time diminished much from 2017 to 2018, going from 12 games to six.

The rest of the midfield is composed of players who either lack experience or are new to Pitt. First-year French midfielder Valentin Noel has already made an impact by making the game-winning assist in an exhibition win over No. 17 James Madison. Junior UBMC transfer Matt Bailey and Providence senior midfielder transfer Braden Kline could also be important for this Pitt team with their experience. Bailey provided two assists in the Duquesne win and Kline appeared in most games during his time at Providence.

The goalkeeper position remains the same from last season, with sophomore Johan Penaranda keeping the job after starting 17 games in 2018. Fellow sophomore Alex Steinbach will slot in behind Penaranda as the primary backup.

Fans can expect Pitt to improve upon last season’s record, especially in conference play, and make it even further in the ACC tournament. At best, this team could possibly push for an NCAA at-large berth if Kizza performs as well as he did in 2018 and the defense steps up in a big way. At worst, Pitt could fail to improve on last year’s team and regress back to the bottom of the ACC.

For Panther fans, knowing that head coach Jay Vidovich — a former national champion in his time at Wake Forest — is in his fourth year with a team of his own recruits should bring excitement, with the potential for Pitt to emerge as one of the ACC’s top teams in the near future.