Pitt advances to Elite 8 after dominant 4-0 victory over UCF

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The Panthers netted three goals in the first half and capitalized on several mistakes from the UCF backline in an impressive 4-0 victory.

By Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer

Coming off a dominant 6-1 victory over Monmouth in its opening match, No. 2 Pitt men’s soccer showcased its offensive firepower once again in a convincing 4-0 shutout of Central Florida at a neutral site in Cary, N.C.

In its second 2021 NCAA Tournament match, Pitt did not waste a moment in picking up where it left off last round. The Panthers scored a season-high six goals in their statement win against Monmouth on Sunday, and it took the explosive Panther offense just 23 seconds to find the back of the net once again on Thursday.

Pitt received the ball on the opening kickoff and immediately sent a long ball down the right wing into the defensive third of UCF. Sophomore midfielder Veljko Petkovic capitalized on a reckless touch by a Golden Knights defender and found the bottom-right corner in a one-on-one situation with the UCF goalkeeper. After assisting two goals in Pitt’s first match, Petkovic recorded his first goal of the 2021 NCAA Tournament to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in just the first minute of play.

Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich is no stranger to the pursuit of national championships. After the game, he stressed how the sense of urgency was heightened for Pitt after already playing one game in the tournament and having its title aspirations at stake.

“You carry the weight of the first game, you carry the weight of the seed, everything else, you carry the expectations of the program,” Vidovich said. “We want to win games, we want to chase the trophy.”

The Golden Knights responded with significant pressure on the Pitt back line, but it took just 11 minutes for the Panthers to generate another quality chance at goal. First-year forward and ACC freshman of the year Bertin Jacquesson rocketed a low cross into the box and found the foot of senior forward Alexander Dexter, who extended the Pitt advantage to 2-0 in the 12th minute.

Despite scoring two early goals, the Panthers refused to take their foot off the gas. Pitt’s aggressive attack continued to put pressure on the UCF defense, and in the 22nd minute of play, Petkovic forced yet another miscue at the top of the 18-yard box. Petkovic side-stepped the UCF goalkeeper and connected for his second goal of the match to give Pitt a 3-0 lead.

Vidovich cited the aggressive minded attack as the key to forcing UCF to play on its heels for much of the game.

“We knew they like to build out and play like we do, and we felt that we could press them,” Vidovich said. “Certainly our attacking guys bought into it … when we did win it, we were just very effective at finishing there in the final third.”

The remainder of the first half featured several significant attacks, but neither team managed to finish their chances. While UCF only had a couple of seriously threatening opportunities, the Golden Knights certainly kept Pitt senior goalkeeper Nico Campuzano busy, forcing him to make six saves in the first half alone. The Panthers fired just three shots in the half, but certainly made the most of those opportunities and took a 3-0 lead into the halftime break.

In a relatively quiet start to the second half, quality chances were few and far-between until the 65th minute, when Pitt’s attacking pressure led to a third devastating mistake from the UCF backline. Star sophomore striker Valentin Noel barged into a UCF passing lane and tapped the ball past the goalkeeper to extend Pitt’s lead to 4-0.

Neither offense eased up as the game went on, but both goalkeepers held strong for the remainder of the match. Pitt manufactured five shots on target in the second half to UCF’s four, but 4-0 proved to be the final score of the match. Campuzano finished the match with 10 saves to send the Panthers to the regional final. After the match, Vidovich praised the team’s exceptional chemistry, and was blown away at how quickly the team has developed into one with consistency.

“The difference in the way we started against Monmouth to where we were today, that can sometimes take years or a season to gather,” Vidovich said. “Our guys figured it out after one game.”

After being shut out by No. 1 Clemson on April 17, the Panthers have now scored a total of 10 goals in their two NCAA Tournament matches. Vidovich highlighted that despite how dynamic Pitt’s offense has been all season, even he is surprised by this surge of goals.

“We’re pretty efficient with our goal scoring,” Vidovich said. “But would I expect that many goals at this time? No.”

Pitt improves to a record of 15-3 overall, marking their highest win total in program history. The Panther offense will look to stay on track in a matchup with No. 7 seed Washington on Monday at 1 p.m.

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