Men’s soccer clinches Coastal division with 5-0 win over UVA


Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Photo by Thomas Yang, Senior Staff Photographer

By Kyle Saxon, Staff Writer

When Jay Vidovich took over as the head men’s soccer coach at Pitt five seasons ago, the team had not yet won an ACC game. The top-ranked Panthers defeated Virginia 5-0 on Thursday night to clinch the ACC Coastal division title.

“Coming to a place where it hadn’t been done before, and to come to a city like this, and try to make people proud of what we’re trying to do, it’s just a great opportunity,” he said. “I’m just very, very proud of what the kids have paved and what they’ve done to get us here.”

Pitt boasts ACC’s number one scoring offense, and it did not take very long for the Panthers to get on the board. After a passive first couple minutes, they got on the attack, earning a corner kick off of a set piece by first-year forward Bertin Jacquesson. On that fourth-minute corner, sophomore midfielder Veljko Petkovic lofted a high-arcing ball into the box and located sophomore defender Raphael Crivello, who niftily headed the ball to senior forward Alexander Dexter for a point-blank header to put Pitt up, 1-0.

[Photos: Men’s soccer vs. Virginia]

Pitt’s next major chance came in the seventh minute, when senior fullback Jasper Loeffelsend drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box to set up a free kick opportunity. Petkovic sent a curling shot to the opposite post, but an acrobatic save from Virginia goalkeeper Alex Rando kept the Panthers from scoring a second goal.

Pitt maintained full control of the game, but its next real chance did not come until the 22nd minute. The Panthers heavily pressed the Cavaliers for the next several minutes, but a series of shots from Jacquesson, Petkovic and sophomore striker Valentin Noel could not quite find the frame of the goal.

Pitt possessed the ball dominantly for the remainder of the half, but did not generate any truly clean looks at goal –– until the 45th minute. Petkovic played a ball through to Dexter, who crossed it to the far post and found the head of first-year forward Luke Peperak for the very first goal of his collegiate career. Vidovich acknowledged the magnitude of this moment after the game, given Peperak grew up in Pittsburgh.

“That goal that Pep got today, that was fantastic,” he said. “That’s something we remember. What a big thing for Pittsburgh soccer.”

The Panthers controlled the entirety of play in the first half, and the last-minute goal from Peparak, to put them up 2-0, gave Pitt all the momentum they needed in their hopes to clinch the ACC Coastal division championship in the second half. But Vidovich thought his team lacked a bit of aggression for much of the half.

“I think it came too easy to us, and I thought we took our foot off the pedal,” he said. “The way I saw it was three great minutes to start the half and three great minutes to end it.”

For the first portion of the second half, the story remained the same. Pitt controlled the ball extremely well, but many of its attacks dissipated once it got near goal. But the Panthers blew the game open for good in the 68th minute. 

Virginia fouled the Panthers on the fringe of the 18-yard box, setting up a great scoring chance for Pitt. Jacquesson fired a picturesque curling shot into the top left corner to extend Pitt’s lead to 3-0. 

Moments later, Pitt regained possession once again. In the 69th minute, Dexter made a threatening run down the left sideline and played a grounded pass across the box to the feet of first-year midfielder Filip Mirkovic, who tucked a shot inside the left post to give the Panthers a 4-0 advantage.

After their fourth goal, the Panthers turned things down a notch and made a series of substitutions. They calmly possessed the ball for the majority of the remaining minutes, however, and did not pass up a final opportunity to score on a corner in the 90th minute. Petkovic delivered a ball to the head of senior defender Bryce Washington, who scored to put Pitt up by a final score of 5-0.

While Pitt’s identity resides in its explosive offense, its defense is just as deserving of praise. The Panthers shut out their past two opponents, and allowed just three shots on-target tonight against Virginia. Pitt is capable of possessing the ball so well. Its ability to win the ball before it even gets to its back line. Vidovich praised his team’s defensive improvement as of late.

“The guys are coming up with their plays when they need to,” he said. “Collectively it’s a lot better. The press, and the work by everybody on the team.”

With the win, the Panthers improve to 13-2 overall, while Virginia falls to 7-8-1. Pitt now looks to a match with Clemson this Saturday to determine the ACC recipient of an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.