Soccer: Panthers prevail over Seton Hall

By Greg Trietley

The Pitt men’s soccer team was lucky to escape to intermission Saturday tied with Seton Hall,… The Pitt men’s soccer team was lucky to escape to intermission Saturday tied with Seton Hall, as the Pirates out-shot and out-cornered the Panthers in the opening 45 minutes.

But with some adjustments, the Panthers came out energized and dominated the second half at Ambrose Urbanic Field on Pitt’s upper campus. Pitt (4-7-1, 2-1-0 Big East) beat Seton Hall 2-0 to move to a three-way tie for third place in the Big East’s Blue Division.

“Our guys battled,” Panthers head coach Joe Luxbacher said after the game. “We lost a tough game last Wednesday in overtime, and they recouped and came back. This is a big one.”

Freshman Chukwudi “Chu Chu” Onyeukwu scored the eventual game-winning goal in the 58th minute when senior Terry Akpua fed him a long lead pass that he and Seton Hall defender Kai Greene raced after. Goalkeeper Michael Kuzan came out to clear the ball, but he collided with Greene, giving Onyeukwu an open net for his second goal of the season.

“I just ran hard for it,” Onyeukwu said after the game. “Luckily it bounced my way. I just tapped it in.”

Akpua added an insurance goal in the 86th minute to go with his assist. Freshman defender Derrick Smith ran the ball up the sideline and found Ryan Brode in the middle, who quickly fed an open Akpua for his first goal of the year.

Pitt held Seton Hall (4-6-2, 0-3-0 Big East) to one shot in the second half — a weak header that went wide with 20 seconds left in the contest. The Panthers out-shot the Pirates 7-1 after intermission.

But the game started off in the opposite direction for the Panthers. After a strike from Pitt’s Matt Walbert in the second minute, the Pirates had the game’s next nine shots.

“In the first half, we were a little bit disorganized,” Luxbacher said. “They had us on our heels. They missed a couple close.”

In the 11th minute, Seton Hall sophomore Anthony Reichwaldt escaped for a partial breakaway, but Pitt defender Alex Harrison made a sliding play to break up the rush. Ten minutes later, freshman midfielder Damian Bziukiewicz of the Pirates had a clean look from the top of the box, but his shot deflected just wide of the left post.

The Pirates out-shot the Panthers 9-1 and out-cornered them 5-1 in the first half.

“They have very good individual players. They can hurt you if you don’t really pressure them and mark tight,” Luxbacher said. “In the first half, they were getting too much space and they had us chasing the ball. Our guys tightened up in the second half.”

Max Garcia, Seton Hall’s leading scorer, had three shots before intermission. But the Panthers shut him and the rest of the Pirate offense down in the second half when they added an extra midfielder.

“We made some adjustments at the half, particularly in the midfield,” Luxbacher said. “They’re very good in the midfield. They were having their way with us. We were basically trying to tighten it up.”

The adjustments worked. Seton Hall couldn’t create much offense late in the game, and Pitt earned its second conference win, already topping last season’s 1-6-2 record.

“It was a great second-half performance,” goalkeeper Lee Johnston said after the game. “In the first half, we weathered the storm. They had a lot of chances in front of the goal, but I think once we got out of that, we came out strong and did what we needed to do, and got the result.”

Johnston finished with two saves for his second shutout of the season. The freshman is now third in the Big East in both save percentage (.853) and goals-against average (0.68).

Luxbacher said that Johnston is the starter in the net going forward.

“Lee’s the guy,” he said. “He did everything we asked tonight.”

Kuzan made three saves for Seton Hall in his first start this year. The Pirates have used four different keepers in 12 games and have struggled to find a reliable starter in net.

The game Saturday was also noteworthy for the number of fouls called on both teams. The Pirates and Panthers totaled 29 as they played one of the more physical games this fall.

“I didn’t expect it to be that physical with them,” Onyeukwu said. “But in the Big East, everything is physical. You have to be able to play through it.”

Pitt will have another tough contest when it hosts rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers upset No. 13 Georgetown Saturday, 1-0.

The Panthers and Mountaineers are tied in the Big East standings with identical 2-1 records.