Men’s Soccer: Pitt prepares for Backyard Brawl

By Greg Trietley

When the West Virginia men’s soccer team travels to Pitt to play at Ambrose Urbanic Field… When the West Virginia men’s soccer team travels to Pitt to play at Ambrose Urbanic Field Wednesday, it will mark the first time that the Mountaineers have played at the Panthers’ new Oakland home.

But because of Pitt’s impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, this visit from the rival Mountaineers (6-4-1, 2-1-0 Big East) might also be their last as a conference foe.

The 47th edition of soccer’s Backyard Brawl kicks off at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Pitt’s upper campus with major postseason implications for both programs. West Virginia and Pitt (4-7-1, 2-1-0 Big East) are locked in a tie for third place in the Big East’s Blue Division with six points each.

As Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher put it Saturday, the game is “huge.”

Both teams are three points behind Marquette for first place in the division, but they are also just two points short of the final spot in next month’s Big East Championship.

Pitt freshman Chu Chu Onyeukwu said that despite the team’s winning conference record, the Panthers are still searching for that elusive 90-minute performance.

“We just need to play a little bit quicker,” he said Saturday. “We started really slow in the first half [against Seton Hall]. Once we got our legs, we put the game away, but we need to start a little quicker.”

Pitt defeated Seton Hall 2-0 on Saturday.

West Virginia enters Wednesday’s game on a high note, having upset No. 13 Georgetown 1-0 in Morgantown Saturday. Mountaineer midfielder Uwem Etuk scored in the 82nd minute to hand the Hoyas their first conference loss.

Even then, West Virginia head coach Marlon LeBlanc looked ahead to the Backyard Brawl.

“We need to move on pretty quickly because we’ve got a big game Wednesday night back in the race for the Big East,” LeBlanc said in an interview with Mountaineer TV after the game. “Going out to Pittsburgh and trying to pick up three points on the road is of the most importance.”

With consecutive shutouts from redshirt junior Justin Holmes against Georgetown and Cincinnati, the Mountaineers have not allowed a goal in 196 minutes of play.

Kiwi forward Andy Bevin leads West Virginia with six goals — tied for second most in the Big East — in his first season in North America.

The Panthers have struggled to generate offense this season, but they finished two chances Saturday against Seton Hall to earn a hard-fought victory. The Pirates dominated the first half of the game, but Luxbacher said his team tightened up after intermission and created chances off strong defense.

“In the second half, I thought we really worked hard and we tightened up defensively, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Luxbacher said Saturday. “We’re not going to score a lot of goals, so we’ve got to keep tight to the vest and hopefully get a goal or two.”

Luxbacher said his entire back line played well in the second half against Seton Hall. The Pirates mustered just one shot — a weak wide header — after intermission.

“Robert [Iledare] and [Alex] Harrison both played very solid,” he said. “[Sam] Luffy too. Luffy in the second half, I thought he really played well, and he’s hurting. He’s injured — not enough to not play — but enough that you don’t feel really good. And Shane [Flowers] was good too.”

Onyeukwu and senior Terry Akpua scored goals for Pitt against the Pirates. The Big East named Akpua, who also assisted on Onyeukwu’s tally, to the Men’s Soccer Weekly Honor Roll for his effort.

Sophomore Nico Wrobel leads the Panthers with five goals this year, but he hasn’t scored since a penalty kick goal in a 5-1 loss to Richmond on Sept. 18. Pitt remains last in the Big East in goals per game (0.92).

West Virginia leads the all-time series against the Panthers 31-9-6, a tally that dates back to 1962. Pitt last defeated the Mountaineers in 2000, when the No. 9-ranked Panthers won 1-0 at Shaler Area High School.

West Virginia never lost at Founders Field, where Pitt played for 10 years before moving to Ambrose Urbanic Field.

LeBlanc said he’s looking forward to moving from the often muddy and chewed up Founders Field to the synthetic turf at the Panthers’ new home, which should allow for crisper passes and more chances for his Mountaineers to create offense.

“We don’t have to play on their rugby field anymore, which ought to be nice,” LeBlanc said. “I never want to say many nice things about Pittsburgh, but they’ve got a nice new facility.”