Soccer: Panthers fighting to stay alive

By Greg Trietley

Consecutive losses to West Virginia and Connecticut have put the Pitt men’s soccer team on the… Consecutive losses to West Virginia and Connecticut have put the Pitt men’s soccer team on the outside of the Big East Championship looking in. But the Panthers have an opportunity Tuesday to climb right back into postseason position when they host the Providence Friars at 7 p.m. at Ambrose Urbanic Field.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will hold a spot among the Blue Division’s top six teams, which qualify for the Big East Championship.

Notre Dame and Providence (7-5-1, 2-2-1 Big East) currently hold the last two spots for the conference tournament with seven points each. Pitt (4-9-1, 2-3-0 Big East) sits in seventh place, one point behind.

“We are treating this game as the biggest game of the season,” sophomore Pitt defender Alex Harrison said Monday. “By winning this game, we would be very confident about making the playoffs.”

The Panthers and Friars each have four conference games remaining.

“With four games, these are much-needed points to get into the Big East tournament,” senior midfielder Ryan Brode said Monday. “This is a very, very big game for us.”

Providence defeated Seton Hall Saturday, 6-1, to leapfrog Pitt in the standings. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak.

Friars forward Greg Davis had a hat trick in the game and now leads the team with five goals this season.

Providence, though, isn’t the most offensively minded school in the Big East. Despite their breakout game against Seton Hall, the Friars attempt on average the least shots (10.46) and earn the second-fewest corners per game (4.08) in the conference. Pitt’s offensive production is comparable; after facing two stifling opponents in West Virginia and Connecticut, the Panthers stand last in the conference with 0.79 goals per game. They’re averaging 10.7 shots and 5.3 corners per game.

Senior goalkeeper Jhojan Obando has carried the load for Providence this season. He has five shutouts to go with a 1.08 goals-against average and .750 save percentage.

On Pitt’s side, the turbulence early this year in goal appears to have steadied under freshman goalkeeper Lee Johnston, who has started five straight games since returning from a concussion.

Johnston had several highlight-reel saves Saturday against Connecticut (13-0-1, 4-0-1 Big East). Pitt lost 1-0 in front of 4,995 fans at the Huskies’ Joseph J. Morrone Stadium, but Johnston was exceptional against the No. 1 team in the nation.

“Lee Johnston is one of the best goalkeepers I have seen,” Harrison said. “He has been unbelievable this season, and I think as a freshman this year he is one of the best in the Big East.”

In the 50th minute, Johnston stoned Andrew Jean-Baptiste with a diving save on a low, hard shot from 12 yards out. The rebound went right to Jean-Baptiste, and he let off another strike from close range, but Johnston dove back across his body to keep that out, too.

The freshman finished with six saves as the Huskies out-shot the Panthers, 21-8.

Huskies forward Allando Matheson scored the only goal of the game, his third of the year, on a goal-line scramble in the 61st minute.

Connecticut has allowed three goals in 14 games this season and is tied for the Big East lead with 23 goals scored. With UConn’s success this season in mind, even a loss against the Huskies can inspire hope.

“We’re feeling confident coming off the UConn game,” Brode said. “We played very well. We think if we can carry that over against Providence, then we should have a lot of success.”