Soccer: Panthers begin season preparation with spring practice

By Nate Barnes

ootball isn’t the only fall sport with spring practice. Pitt soccer is under way with a slate… Football isn’t the only fall sport with spring practice. Pitt soccer is under way with a slate of games and a great deal of practice to help prepare the team for the demanding training over the summer.

With the weather starting to warm up, the team can soon head outside to train at the newly constructed Petersen Sports Complex, which includes a soccer field with FIFA World Cup-quality turf.

The exhibition schedule began on March 20 with a 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, a nearby minor league team. On March 26, the Panthers took on their second opponent of the spring, the Vulcans from California (Pa.). The exhibition ended in a 0-0 tie.

The Panthers are currently sitting at 0-1-1 for the spring. Midfielder Ryan Brode said the defensive performance in both games was solid.

“Defensively, we were good in our first two scrimmages,” Brode said. “We just need to find our rhythm on attack.”

He added that the team is focusing on improving through the rest of the spring season.

“We’re not getting the results that we want or expect right now,” Brode said. “But we’re working hard on getting where we need to be.”

In the 2010 season, Pitt went 6-9-2. Many of the matches were close contests, as evidenced by a goal margin of minus-four.

Pitt played very well at home, posting a 6-2-1 record in Pittsburgh. However, the Panthers ran into a great deal of trouble away from their home field. Including two neutral site games, the Panthers never won a game away from Pittsburgh, finishing 0-7-1 on the road.

Currently, one of Pitt’s most valuable players from last season is ruled ineligible because of academics. Hami Kara, a junior goalie, was in the net for every game Pitt won last year. Kara shut out the opponent in each one of those six victories.

If Kara cannot improve his grades to be reinstated to the team, the likely prospect to step up is freshman Matt Aberegg. Aberegg started two games last year and played in a third. However, Aberegg allowed five goals in those three games and posted a record of 0-2.

“Hami is a great guy and mentor. He helped me a lot through the fall,” Abberegg said. “I started a couple games, and he was really supportive. But I’m glad that I get to capitalize this spring on making myself better. I have a great group of guys around me, and I’m excited to finish up this spring.”

Spring practice is important for developing a sense of team unity as well as preparing the team to be in the best condition possible for the fall slate of matches. Freshman midfielder Daniel Mark said the Panthers have come together as a team during spring practice.

“This spring, our focus to get better every day and we have really improved, we are ready to prove ourselves,” Mark said. “We are really focused on getting in top shape and preparing ourselves in every aspect for the fall season.”

The Panthers return their top goal-scorer, defenseman and mid-fielder Sam Luffy. Luffy, a redshirt junior, scored nine goals last year.

The second leading scorer, mid-fielder Alex Betancourt, graduates in May, and Alex Grayson, the team’s third-leading scorer, is the player most likely to take over. The striker scored six goals in the fall, but his return to the pitch for the Panthers is now in jeopardy. Grayson came to Pitt from Cheshire, England, but encountered passport issues in the winter. He’s been unable to return to Pittsburgh since.

Fortunately for Pitt, the fourth and fifth leading scorers, Brode and Terry Akpua, both return. With Luffy, Brode, Akpua, and possibly Grayson in place, the Panthers boast a core of players capable of scoring.

The Panthers continue to practice and will finish up their spring schedule of games against a pair of local teams, Robert Morris and Duquesne. The Colonials come to the Petersen Sports Complex on April 2, and Pitt will subsequently take the pitch against the Dukes on April 6.

Additionally, Pitt will be participating in the City Tournament in Moon, Pa. The Panthers’ first match will be against Duquesne on April 16. The upcoming game on April 6 gives the Panthers an opportunity to prepare for their future match against the Dukes.