Preview: Panthers offensive stars to trounce Fighting Irish in rematch

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Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

The Atlantic Coast Conference honored Pitt (11-2-0, 7-1-0) junior midfielder Jackson Walti with the title of ACC Defensive Player of the Week. Walti earned his first career award on Saturday, March 27 for his contribution to No.1 Pitt’s 2-1 double overtime triumph at unranked Virginia Tech (6-4-2, 3-5-2 ACC).

By Tricia Caucci, Staff Writer

Planning during the COVID-19 pandemic is a pain, and Pitt men’s soccer knows that better than most.

The Panthers planned to play Notre Dame twice in the fall regular season, but had to postpone the second match due to a COVID protocols within the Pitt program. The teams will now face off this Saturday, on Ambrose Urbanic Field at 7 p.m.

The Atlantic Coast Conference honored Pitt (11-2-0, 7-1-0) junior midfielder Jackson Walti with the title of ACC Defensive Player of the Week. Walti earned the honor for his performance last Saturday in No. 5 Pitt’s 2-1 double overtime triumph at Virginia Tech. 

The defensive line, including Walti, minimized the Hokies offense to only eight shots — with only one attempt in both overtimes. The win against the Hokies came as the third OT win of the season — in addition to a 2OT victory on Oct. 6 against Syracuse and a recent 4-3 at Duke in 2OT on March 19. All of these games occurred on the road.

Pitt nabbed two consecutive weeks with mentions from the ACC. Sophomore midfielder Valentin Noel scored the Co-Offensive Player of the Week last week for his efforts in the Panther’s 4-3 double overtime victory against Duke (3-9-2, 3-6-0) on March 19. Oakland’s team managed to produce six honorees this season so far. 

Rolling into its second-to-last match of the season against No. 7 Notre Dame (8-7-0), Pitt possesses the most single-season wins in the program’s history with 11 wins since 2000. 

The last and 28th time the Panthers played the Fighting Irish came in the ACC tournament semifinals on Nov. 18 in Raleigh, N.C. Pitt won the match when sophomore midfielder Veljko Petkovic scored two goals and Noel added one more all in the first half. The only score from Notre Dame came off of a penalty kick in the 86th minute by junior forward Jack Lynn. 

Both teams come into the game with dominant players leading the league in soccer’s major categories. Notre Dame’s Lynn dominates the ACC offensively this season, ranking first for total shots overall and second for total shots on goal in the ACC. Noel and Lynn top the ACC at first and second in total goals, respectively. 

Offense is not the only strong aspect of the Panthers strategy. Pitt graduate student defense Jasper Loeffelsend leads the ACC in assists. Graduate student goalkeeper Nico Campuzano leads the conference in saves with 42, seven more than the next closest keeper. He will have his hands full with Notre Dame senior midfielder Aiden McFadden, who has put away three game-winning goals this year.

Notre Dame’s season has gone pretty evenly with eight wins and seven losses, posting a similar rate in the conference. Like the Panthers, the Fighting Irish come off of an overtime performance — a 2-1 heartbreaker to North Carolina.

Prediction

The Panthers dominated the Irish the last time out, and will perform similarly this weekend. The match will extend the Fighting Irish’s losing streak to three losses. 

Noel and Petkovic shine brightest in the first half, so Pitt will look to start strong. Otherwise, Notre Dame could try to steal an early lead to throw off the Panther’s focus. The Irish will have to find an answer for Noel, who could easily score multiple goals in this one.

McFadden and Lynn haven’t converted their shots into goals as effectively recently, so Pitt shouldn’t expect that to change. Campuzano has provided a secure wall in the net this season, and can hold things down while Noel attacks the Fighting Irish defense.

Final: Pitt: 3, ND: 0

Watch Pitt face off against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday, April 3 at 7 p.m. on ACCNX.

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