Pitt soccer’s reinvention is ready for the spotlight

Sophomore+forward+Amanda+West+%289%29+celebrates+with+her+teammates+after+scoring+a+goal+on+Syracuse+during+Pitt%E2%80%99s+2-0+victory+over+the+Orange+on+Sept.+17.+

Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore forward Amanda West (9) celebrates with her teammates after scoring a goal on Syracuse during Pitt’s 2-0 victory over the Orange on Sept. 17.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Soccer is not one of America’s more popular sports. Even with the rise of institutions like Major League Soccer and the USL Championship, it is unlikely to surpass American football and basketball in fans.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to it. In fact, there is high-level soccer being played right in Oakland.

Pitt women’s soccer is on an absolute tear right now. The Panthers have won six of their first eight games, have won at least their first four games for the first time since 2009 and are currently ranked No. 14 in the nation by the United Soccer Coaches Poll.

The women’s team is coming off a rather abysmal 2019 season, where the Panthers won only five of 18 games. They have already surpassed the 2019 team’s win total this year, while holding their opponents to just six goals in those first eight games. But a good defense is only part of the picture.

Pitt can also counter on the offensive end. The Panthers have scored 18 goals on 58 shots and have 121 total shots, which means they are pressuring opposing defenses and keeping the ball in the attacking half. For reference, that’s about the same rate of shots — roughly 15 shots per game — as the top school in the country, the University of North Carolina.

Not only that, but many of Pitt’s top performers are still underclassmen, meaning this string of success can carry over for the next couple of seasons, if they’re lucky.

While the women’s team is already deep in its season, Pitt men’s soccer is just getting underway. Even after playing only two scrimmages, the first United Soccer Coaches Poll had ranked the Panthers second in the nation, behind only Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia.

Their Sept. 19 scrimmage against Louisville, while not counting toward the season, was Pitt’s best performance so far this year — a 5-0 shoutout.

The men’s team has already shown it can swing with the best of them, defeating then No. 5 Notre Dame 3-1 in its first regular-season matchup on Sept. 26. Apparently that was enough to boost Pitt’s rankings in the second USC poll to No. 2 in the country, behind only Wake Forest.

The Panthers play Syracuse on Tuesday, which is the second of only seven scheduled games.

The men’s team roster consists of a healthy mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen, although it’s a bit early to judge their prospective success at the moment. If anything, the Panthers are looking to improve upon their previous season, where they reached the semifinals of the ACC men’s soccer tournament and the second round of the NCAA tournament.

But why would one want to keep an eye on them, when we can’t even go to the games?

Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or any other sport, these athletes are your fellow students, and you should feel like you’re a part of the team as well. If the typical pull of school pride isn’t enough, you also want to support a team when it’s winning, and both Pitt soccer teams are winning. These are potential conference championship contenders, and their success could be sustained well into the future.

From an athletic perspective, soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country today. This growth is how Major League Soccer went from 20 teams to nearly 30 teams in about six years.

Besides growing popularity, soccer has also become more prevalent at pre-professional levels. Several colleges and pro teams have their own soccer-specific facilities, and most colleges actually allow you to attend games for free (at least when there isn’t an ongoing pandemic).

Obviously, it’s impossible to attend games live because of the pandemic, but that shouldn’t drive you away from showing support. Both teams are active on social media, and the Pitt Athletics website has scores and stats from previous games.

Both Pitt soccer teams are off to hot starts and have chances to go deep into this year’s tournaments, and it’s worth giving them your attention.

Leave a comment.