Men’s Soccer: Panthers lose two straight games

By Greg Trietley

The Pitt men’s soccer team saw its chances of making the Big East Championship dwindle this… The Pitt men’s soccer team saw its chances of making the Big East Championship dwindle this week, as the Panthers concluded their home schedule with losses Tuesday and Saturday to teams they chased in the standings.

The Panthers entered the week one point behind both the Providence Friars and Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish for the last spot in the postseason tournament, but they lost to the Friars on Tuesday, 1-0, and to the Fighting Irish on senior night Saturday, 3-1.

The consecutive losses put Pitt (4-11-1, 2-5-0 Big East) four points behind the sixth-place Fighting Irish with two games left in the regular season.

“It’s the same script,” Pitt men’s soccer head coah Joe Luxbacher said about the loss to Notre Dame. “We didn’t play well in the first 15 minutes. We’re trying to figure out how to score a goal. We had a few chances, but we’re still not creating enough chances.”

It’s still possible for the Panthers to make the Big East tournament, but they would need to win their final two games and Notre Dame would have to lose a match and tie a match.

Notre Dame (7-3-4, 3-2-1 Big East) took it to the Panthers on senior night, out-shooting them 24-7 and out-cornering them 10-3.

“They were just a step faster than us,” Luxbacher said after the game. “Our guys battled and hung in there, but they [the Fighting Irish] deserved to win. They were the better team tonight.”

Pitt had a great opportunity to open the scoring midway through the first half when Pitt senior Terry Akpua fed a through ball to midfielder Dan Prete in the box. Notre Dame senior goalkeeper Will Walsh, though, bumped Prete and he didn’t score. The Panthers were up in arms wanting a call, but none came from officials.

“We had a couple chances early,” Luxbacher said. “I thought we should have had a penalty kick quite honestly when Prete was pulled down in the box.”

From there, the game was all Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish opened the scoring on a wild play in the 33rd minute. Sophomore Harrison Shipp let off a strike that Pitt goalkeeper Lee Johnston redirected off the right post. Defender Shane Flowers tried to control the rebound, but the ball bounced off his foot back onto goal, and it trickled over the line before Johnston could corral it.

Johnston made back-to-back stellar saves on seniors Adam Mena and Brendan King with eight minutes left in the half, but the Irish broke through when Aaron Maund found Shipp in front for a tap-in in the 44th minute.

“That’s a problem we’ve been having all year,” Akpua said. “We try to score, and we keep pushing, but once they score the first goal, it’s hard for us to keep playing. For some reason, we just stop and they score again and score again.”

The Fighting Irish out-shot the Panthers 16-1 in the first half, and Johnston had to make seven saves before intermission. He finished with 11 saves.

Notre Dame tacked on another goal when Shipp beat Johnston in the 47th minute for his fourth goal of the season.

“They’re probably the most skilled team we’ve seen all year,” senior midfielder Andy Clifford said.

Pitt honored Clifford, Akpua, Flowers, Ryan Brode, Hami Kara and Sam Luffy before the game as part of senior-night festivities.

“It’s been a long ride,” Clifford said. “Great experience, great guys. I wouldn’t have changed anything, but it’s not over yet.”

In his final home game, Clifford assisted on Pitt’s lone goal, scored by Prete in the final minute on a shot from 25 yards out.

Prete’s goal snapped a two-week drought for Pitt, which has struggled to find the back of the net this month. On Tuesday, Providence limited the Panthers to one shot on goal, and the Friars won, 1-0.

Marcos Ugarte’s fifth goal of the year gave Providence the victory. Junior midfielder Marc Cintron sent a cross to Greg Davis on the end line in the 15th minute. Davis found Ugarte open in front, and he roofed a shot to put Providence on the board.

Pitt’s best chance to tie the game came in the 84th minute. Akpua and Providence goalkeeper Jhojan Obando met at the top of the box on a 50-50 ball. The ball came to Eric Walker with an open net, but his hurried shot went wide.

Providence out-shot Pitt 11-8 and had six shots on goal. Johnston made five saves for the Panthers in the losing effort.

Pitt didn’t register a shot on goal until the final minute, when Ryan McKenzie directed a weak header to Obando.

The Panthers have two games remaining in the regular season. They play at the Georgetown Hoyas (9-3-4, 4-2-1 Big East) Wednesday afternoon and then take on the first-place Marquette Golden Eagles (8-6-2, 6-1-0 Big East) in Milwaukee on Saturday night.