Preview: Pitt men’s soccer to avenge previous loss to Clemson in Saturday rematch

Photo+by+Thomas+Yang%2C+Senior+Staff+Photographer

Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Photo by Thomas Yang, Senior Staff Photographer

By Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt men’s soccer clinched the ACC Coastal division title with a 5-0 win over Virginia last weekend. The Panthers look to keep their momentum rolling as No. 1 Pitt will take on No. 4 Clemson for the chance to claim the ACC conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The two sides enter their second matchup of the season on starkly different trajectories. While the Panthers shut out their final two opponents of the regular season, Clemson finished the final two matches of its schedule with a draw and a loss.

Despite recent struggles from the Tigers, Pitt shouldn’t underestimate its opponent. The only other meeting between these two teams this season came in the ACC Tournament championship game, when Clemson handed Pitt its first loss of the season by a score of 2-1. But two lackluster performances down the stretch — in which Clemson scored just one total goal — does not tell the full story of the Tigers’ season.

Nonetheless, it is safe to say that these two teams have remained the two best in the ACC all season. The Panthers and Tigers saw a combined 18 players earn All-ACC honors Wednesday, with nine coming from each squad.

But when it came to the most prestigious awards the Panthers nearly swept their competition. Sophomore attacking midfielder Valentin Noel, the ACC’s leading goal-scorer, won offensive player of the year and senior fullback Jasper Loeffelsend earned defensive player of the year. Additionally, first-year forward Bertin Jacquesson won ACC freshman of the year and, unsurprisingly, head coach Jay Vidovich was named ACC coach of the year.

The long list of honors didn’t stop there, with senior goalkeeper Nico Campuzano joining Noel and Loeffelsend on the All-ACC first team while several other Panthers earned second and third team honors. 

Pitt’s impressive performance in the All-ACC awards highlights how well-rounded the Panthers are as a whole. While the Panthers have always boasted an explosive offense, with the most goals and best goals per game average in the ACC, their back line has truly come into form over the course of the spring. Their two shutout performances to end the season are a sign of immense progress for the defense, allowing Pitt to boast the best scoring margin of any team in the ACC, scoring an average of 1.26 goals more than their opponent per game.

While Clemson’s offensive numbers aren’t as flashy, they still managed to score the third-most goals of any ACC team this season, and surrendered the third-fewest goals per game. The Tigers shut down the Panther offense in the ACC Championship last fall, and kept Pitt from scoring multiple goals for the first time all season.

But perhaps the most forgotten part about the ACC Championship game in the fall was the absence of one of the nation’s top defenders, senior Jasper Loeffelsend for Pitt. With Loeffelsend back on the right side of the defense, the Panthers regain not only their best defender, but also the ACC co-leader in assists, tied only with Clemson’s Grayson Barber. The ACC defensive player of the year plays an essential role in the Panther attack — the combination of him, Petkovic, Jacquesson and Noel has given almost every team in the conference some serious problems.

Saturday’s rematch promises to be thrilling, with both teams bringing their star-studded rosters to Clemson for a chance at an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at 7 p.m. on ACC Network. While Clemson has faltered lately, the Tigers shut down the feared Panthers’ offense when it mattered most in their last meeting. But with the Panthers fully healthy, this game certainly could present a different story.

Prediction:

Given the direction in which Clemson is trending lately and the Panthers playing their best soccer of the year, Pitt is likely to control the pace and possession of this game. 

When the Panthers are able to consistently win the ball at midfield, they are certain to generate numerous counterattack opportunities, which is where their dynamic offense thrives the most. 

Pitt will get their revenge from the ACC tournament and top the Tigers convincingly, 3-1, to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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