Men’s Soccer: Panthers set to begin conference play

By Greg Trietley

The Pitt men’s soccer team underperformed in nonconference play, winning just twice and… The Pitt men’s soccer team underperformed in nonconference play, winning just twice and totaling six goals in eight games.

Redshirt senior defender Shane Flowers said that doesn’t matter now.

“All these games leading up to the Big East are pretty much just a preseason,” he said. “The only thing that matters now is the Big East.”

Pitt (2-5-1) has a clean slate when it opens conference play against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Friday at 7 p.m. in Piscataway, N.J.

Rutgers (3-3-0) lost its last two games, both against ranked opponents. In Sunday’s 2-0 loss at home against No. 9 Indiana, the Scarlet Knights mustered two shots on goal. They went scoreless during their weekend home stand, as No. 25 Iona also shut them out Friday.

Still, the Scarlet Knights have the ability to put the ball in the net. They scored nine goals in four games before their recent offensive slump.

“We had a lot of loose balls that just happened to get deflected by defenders, or the keeper was able to get on the end of it,” head coach Dan Donigan said in a news release on the Rutgers Athletics site after the Iona game. “If we continue to play at this level, the results will come.”

Pitt defeated Rutgers 3-0 last October at Founders Field, but Panthers head coach Joe Luxbacher said the Scarlet Knights have improved since last season.

“They are very athletic and play a 4-3-3 system,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough match. They have some good wins this year.”

The 4-3-3 defense places a third player at midfield, which makes the defense stronger and allows it to be staggered.

Freshman forward Juan Pablo Correa — a top recruit out of high school — leads Rutgers with six points in six games. He also is tied for the team lead in goals (2) and shots (13).

Pitt, too, has leaned on its youth this season. The Panthers started five freshmen in Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Richmond Spiders.

“We’re still a young team, so we’re just learning every day, trying to get better in practice,” freshman Julian Dickenson said.

Luxbacher said that with inexperience comes inconsistency.

“We’ve been playing a lot of freshmen and different lineups trying to find out who can do what,” he said. “We’ve made changes just about every game. I think we have some good young players, but they can be inconsistent. A number of guys had a poor effort at the same time against Richmond.”

Junior goalkeeper Keegan Gunderson took the brunt of Richmond’s onslaught Sunday afternoon, as defensive miscues resulted in several late goals against.

“The last game was a step back,” Luxbacher said. “We gave up five goals. We haven’t done that in years.”

The situation in goal has been rocky all season, Luxbacher said.

“In goal, we’ve had all kinds of issues, with injuries and concussions and just poor play at times,” he said. “We’ve been through four goalkeepers, which is unheard of for this early in the season. We haven’t had stability there.”

Gunderson, senior Hami Kara, sophomore Matt Aberegg and freshman Lee Johnston all have seen playing time in exhibition games and regular season.

On offense, sophomore Nico Wrobel has five of Pitt’s six goals this season. But even Wrobel has struggled to score outside of dead-ball situations: Four of his goals came via penalty kicks.

Fixing that will be tough on the road as conference play begins.

“They always get a great crowd down at Rutgers,” Luxbacher said. “It’s a night game on a Friday. Our guys will be challenged.”