Men’s soccer: Panthers set for home opener

By Greg Trietley

Finally, the Pitt men’s soccer team will have a true home game.

The Panthers will play… Finally, the Pitt men’s soccer team will have a true home game.

The Panthers will play their first regular-season game at Ambrose Urbanic Field Friday when they host Air Force at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Pitt/Nike Invitational. They will conclude the tournament Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with a game against Bowling Green.

The Panthers (1-2-1) haven’t played a regular-season game on campus since Nov. 4, 1999, when they defeated California (Pa.) 4-1 at Pitt Stadium, nine days before the stadium’s closure. For more than 10 years, the men’s and women’s soccer programs have played off campus, first at area high schools and then at Founders Field in Cheswick, Pa.

But now they’re back.

Women’s soccer opened the season at home on Aug. 19, but the men’s side started the year with four consecutive road games — the longest season-opening road trip in the program’s history.

After playing six exhibition games at the complex in the spring and two more last month, Pitt has had time to acclimate itself to the new turf, which, unlike the often muddy, chewed-up grass of Founders Field, is synthetic.

“It allows you to play better soccer,” Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher said after the spring exhibition season. “You can really use skill more. When you play on a field like Founders, especially late in the season, it’s muddy and heavy. You can’t play the same way you do when the surface is good.”

Pitt scored nine goals in its two exhibition games this August, wins over California (Pa.) and Marshall.

Meanwhile, Air Force (1-1-0) looked potent in its season opener, a 5-2 win at Houston Baptist. And although Davidson shut out them out 2-0 in their most recent game, the Falcons recorded 21 shots — 14 of them in the second half.

Five different players accounted for Air Force’s tallies at Houston Baptist.

“They’ve got some dangerous attackers,” Luxbacher said Sunday.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have been one-dimensional on the score sheet, as sophomore Nico Wrobel has scored all three of Pitt’s goals this year. The rest of the team has been snake-bitten.

“We just have to finish and score goals,” senior Terry Akpua said. “Everything looks pretty good so far, the tactics and style of play.”

Sunday’s opponent, Bowling Green (2-1-0), is still riding the high of a historic win at home two weeks ago. Bowling Green upset No. 9 Michigan 2-0 at Cochrane Field. Freshman midfielder Danny Baraldi and sophomore midfielder Ryan Snashall scored the goals, and sophomore goalkeeper Michael Wiest earned the shutout in his first collegiate start.

Six players each have one goal for the Falcons this season.

“Bowling Green is a very good team,” Luxbacher said. “They’ll be very tough. We’ll see them on Friday. We’ll watch them, since they play before us.”

Bowling Green will play Duquesne, the fourth team in the invitational, Friday at 5 p.m. The Dukes face Air Force Sunday at 11 a.m., but they won’t play Pitt this weekend.

Duquesne will return to Oakland next Friday at 5 p.m. to face the Panthers.

With four road games in the rearview mirror, Pitt has a travel-friendly schedule ahead of it. Ten of its final 14 games are on campus.

The games this weekend mark Pitt’s second two-game tournament in as many weeks. The Panthers played in the Duquesne Invitational last weekend, in which they beat Stony Brook, 1-0, and tied Valparaiso, 1-1.

Senior defender Shane Flowers said that the weekend tournaments can test a player’s endurance early in the season, but overtime games like Sunday’s improve the team down the road.

“It’s tough to have two games on the weekend,” Flowers said. “Everyone was still drained from Friday night. Coming into the overtime game, it shows you who’s in shape, shows you who’s not in shape, what people need to work on when you do get fatigued. It’s definitely going to help us out later in the season.”