Pitt returns home, dismantles Virginia Tech 4-2


Lucas Zheng | Staff Photographer

Pitt reached the No.1 ranking for the first time in program history in the fall.

By Kyle Saxon, Staff Writer

The No. 2 Pitt Panthers men’s soccer team (3-0) handily defeated Virginia Tech (0-1) at Ambrose Urbanic Field 4-2 in their first home match of the season Saturday.

Aggressive, attack-minded play by both sides dominated the first half. Pitt got the upper hand almost immediately with a clinical finish from sophomore midfielder Veljko Petkovic in the third minute of play.

But Pitt struggled to possess the ball early, and Virginia Tech quickly answered with several chances of their own. Shortly after a point-blank miss from Hokies striker Jacob Labovitz, he managed a nice pass into the box, and striker Kristo Strickler finished it off for the Hokies to tie the game 1-1 in the 13th minute. 

Both sides continued to make forward runs and send balls through. The Panthers eventually capitalized on a beautiful run by senior fullback Jasper Löeffelsend, who delivered a creative assist to the feet of sophomore midfielder Valentin Noel in the 25th minute, giving Pitt a 2-1 lead.

While Pitt was answering Virginia Tech with nice-looking counter attacks, the Hokies seemed to control the ball and tempo in the first half. Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich acknowledged Pitt’s struggles maintaining possession.

“They had too much of the game… we weren’t very effective possessing-wise,” Vidovich said. “I think our possession was lacking.”

Play slowed significantly after the third goal of the game. Both teams ended the first half with six shots, but Pitt generated more quality chances than the Hokies, placing five shots on target, while Tech only managed three. The 2-1 lead that Pitt took to the locker room reflected the quality of the Panthers’ first half play.

Virginia Tech pressed the Panther back line to begin the second half, but Pitt provided a brilliant counter attack. Löeffelsend sent a perfect pass to first-year forward Bertin Jacquesson, who crossed the ball to senior forward Alexander Dexter for a goal. This textbook attack gave Pitt a 3-1 lead in the 49th minute, which they’d hold for quite a while.

Despite their issues with keeping control, Vidovich noted that the team consistently capitalized immediately after stifling Virginia Tech attacks.

“We were good on the counter, we were very explosive and dynamic in that way,” Vidovich said.

Pitt halted all of Virginia Tech’s threatening attacks for the majority of the half, and possessed the ball better than they did in the first half. But the Hokies began to create higher-quality chances near the end of the game, resulting in an 85th minute goal from Strickler. One controversial no-call on a potential penalty kick for Virginia Tech led Vidovich to believe that the game was much closer than the score let on.

“They had their opportunities,” Vidovich said. “It could’ve been a 3-3 game.”

As the theme was throughout the evening, Pitt always seemed to have an answer. Just two minutes later, Petkovic placed an impeccable cross at the feet of Noel, who finished for his second goal of the night in the 87th minute. The score gave the Panthers a 4-2 advantage, which they held for the remainder of the match.

“We were just getting high-quality chances,” Vidovich said. “That’s something we work on, and it’s a part of our identity.”

Despite out-shooting the Panthers eight to four in the second half, Virginia Tech simply could not complete enough of their dangerous attacks near the end of the game. Vidovich said many of these chances came from unforced errors by Pitt.

“We turned the ball over unjustly, without need,” Vidovich said. “Kind of inflicted our own pain on ourselves.”

While its performance was far from top form, Pitt managed to convincingly earn a victory against a good Virginia Tech team. Vidovich believes that the Panthers’ previous game could provide a potential explanation for the flaws in their play on Saturday.

“It was a very difficult game on Tuesday night, and it went to overtime,” Vidovich said. “The emotional expenditure and the physical expenditure and the travel, and all that stuff, it impacted us yesterday. But we found a way.”

Pitt had just enough in the tank to pull out a win in their second game across a five-day span. History was also made on Saturday, as Löeffelsend and Jacquesson both tied for the second-most assists by a Pitt player in a single game, with three each.

The Panthers travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday to face the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers, where they will look to keep their perfect start going.