Panthers’ historic season ends in 1-0 loss to Indiana

Despite+controlling+possession+for+much+of+the+match%2C+the+Panthers%E2%80%99+historic+season+came+to+an+underwhelming+end+on+Friday+as+Pitt+fell+to+Indiana+1-0.

Sam Alburger | Staff Photographer

Despite controlling possession for much of the match, the Panthers’ historic season came to an underwhelming end on Friday as Pitt fell to Indiana 1-0.

By Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer

In its first College Cup appearance in program history, No. 2 Pitt men’s soccer faced one of the most accomplished programs in all of Division I soccer in the No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers. In their 21st trip to the national semifinal, the Hoosiers bested the Panthers 1-0.

The pressures of the national stage played no factor in Pitt’s play to open the match. While shots on target were nearly entirely absent for both sides for much of the first half, the Panthers controlled the pace and possession with confidence. Indiana pressured the Pitt back line very aggressively, and the only real chances the Hoosiers generated came off of two mental lapses by the Panther defense. Despite these opportunities, the Hoosiers managed just two shots, none on target, in the first half.

Pitt played much of the first half at midfield and in its own defensive third, taking simple passes and attempting to build out of the back. While they manufactured a couple of promising attacks in the early minutes, much of the half was stagnant for both teams. But in the final five minutes of play, Pitt appeared to be on the brink of an opening goal.

The Panthers have been successful on the counterattack all season, and an intelligent run and ball from first-year midfielder Filip Mirkovic set up star sophomore midfielder Veljko Petkovic with a clean look at goal. The 41st minute shot was one Petkovic and the Panthers wished they had back, as it sailed over the crossbar for an Indiana goal kick.

But this chance seemed to represent a breakthrough for Pitt, as just three minutes later, senior fullback Jasper Loeffelsend sent a well placed ball to the head of star sophomore striker Valentin Noel, yet Indiana sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano made an acrobatic diving save to keep a well-placed header out of the goal and keep the score locked at 0-0 heading into the half.

Despite an extremely strong finish to the half, Pitt only finished with two shots on target and no goals to show for it. Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich spoke about the adjustments Pitt tried to make to break through and get on the board in the second half.

“We thought we needed to find the ball into Val’s feet a little bit more and we could push on the game,” he said. “We thought we would have them pushed back, and we wanted to make sure we were moving the ball and trying to find seams to have spaces … we wanted to make sure we count stay smooth on that and not get anxious on the ball.”

While the early part of the second half featured much of the same, the Hoosiers clearly came out of the locker room with more urgency and improved touch. While Pitt maintained control of possession, the Hoosiers were starting to manufacture threatening counterattacks — namely a 57th minute opportunity that resulted in a narrow miss on a bending strike from Indiana star sophomore forward Victor Bezzera.

Pitt immediately responded with a show-stopping strike of their own in the 58th minute. Mirkovic rocketed a shot off the bottom of the crossbar — requiring a video review to rule the chance as a no-goal. Once again, the Panthers appeared to be right on the cusp of a goal to send them through to the national championship game. Junior captain Jackson Walti emphasized the frustration of Pitt being inches away from several goals after the game.

“We got close a couple times,” he said. “This is the first time in a game I’ve seen the VR have to be used for the line. The ‘soccer Gods’ weren’t looking down on us today.”

The entire match was epitomized by a point-blank miss by first-year midfielder Luke Mort in the 78th minute. The Hoosiers immediately got on the counter, and a rapid run from Indiana sophomore forward Herbert Endeley gave the Hoosiers a 1-0 advantage.

Endeley showed flashes of speed all game, and finally broke through and rocketed a shot past Pitt senior goalkeeper Nico Campuzano late to send Indiana to its 16th national championship game in program history. Vidovich spoke about how he believed a late equalizer would come for his team if they had more time.

“It was very hard to come back, we didn’t have enough time,” he said. “But right up to the end, look at the corner kicks we had that almost went in, the long-distance shots by Jackson, we had the ball, we were moving on them … I thought it was going to come at the end. I thought our guys fought through and they executed, but we came up short.”

Both sides ended the match with just two shots on target each, and the Panthers were shut out for just the fourth time in their 20 matches this season. Despite controlling the majority of the game’s possession, Vidovich spoke about how a lesson can be learned about the better team not always winning the game.

“I sure thought that we dominated the game,” he said. “Going in there, the team who dominates doesn’t always win, and we take that as a lesson.”

Pitt’s first trip to the College Cup will not have a fairytale ending. But head coach Jay Vidovich has elevated the program to unprecedented heights in just five years at its helm. While an emotional loss will sting in the immediate future, Vidovich has Pitt men’s soccer poised to compete for national championships for years to come.

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