Preview | Pitt men’s soccer prepares to face dynamic Virginia Cavaliers


TPN File Photo

A soccer ball on Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

Following a disappointing two-game skid, Pitt men’s soccer looks to rebound against ACC opponent Virginia on Friday at Ambrose Urbanic Field in Pittsburgh. The Panthers suffered two disheartening losses last week against ranked opponents. First Pitt couldn’t get the upper hand against No. 14 Akron, instead forcing a 3-3 draw with the Zips. Then, the Panthers fell 2-1 on the road against No. 25 Louisville in their first loss in four games. 

But getting back in a groove is easier said than done for the Panthers. Virginia recently defeated No. 3 Syracuse and is looking to add another upset to its resumé. 

Despite a rough start to the season, the Cavaliers are dominant as of late, winning four of their last five games. On top of their upset of Syracuse, the Cavaliers also trounced cross-state rival Virginia Tech 4-2 at home. 

The Cavaliers are also great at running up the score against their opponents, ranking No. 30 in the country in goal differential. Virginia walloped La Salle 5-0 and James Madison 3-0 in September. Virginia’s ability to bury opponents should worry the Panthers. Junior forward Leo Afonso leads the Cavalier offensive charge. 

The Brazilian forward is an aggressive shot-taker, leading Virginia in shots and goals with 40 and five, respectively. Afonso also scored Virginia’s only goal in the win against Syracuse. But Afonso lacks efficiency, only boasting a .125 shooting percentage. Afonso shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to Pitt’s defense unless it fails to stop him from overwhelming senior goaltender Joe van der Sar. 

On the other hand, Cavalier sophomore forward Kome Ubogu is much more efficient than Afonso. Ubogu, who also boasts five goals on the year, shoots at a much higher .263 shooting percentage. Also, the sophomore forward is accurate with his shots, boasting a .632 shot on goal percentage. The Panthers should be wary of the Cavalier forward duo. 

Fifth-year defenseman Moritz Kappelsberger leads the way for the Cavaliers on defense. The German defenseman is highly experienced, previously starting for Duquesne and Wisconsin before transferring to Virginia. At Wisconsin, Kappelsberger notched second-team All-Big-Ten honors. Kappelsberger is a challenge for Pitt’s high-powered offense. 

Also on defense for Virginia is sophomore defenseman Paul Wiese. The sophomore defenseman is highly dynamic, leading the Cavaliers in assists last season with six. The Panthers need to overcome the Cavaliers’ defensive duo if they want to come out with a win on Friday. 

Finally, sophomore goalkeeper Holden Brown will attempt to stymie the Panthers scoring offense. Brown was dominant last season, leading the ACC in saves with 86. But the sophomore goalkeeper is even better this season, establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the country. 

Brown has shut out five teams already this season, ranking No. 3 in the country in shutouts. The game could quickly become a goaltender battle, as both Brown and van der Sar are two of the best in the nation. 

Virginia may have strong players, but Pitt has a strong team. The Panthers boast one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country, ranking No. 23 in the NCAA in scoring offense. 

Junior forward Bertin Jacquesson and senior forward Valentin Noel lead Pitt offensively, scoring a combined seven goals for the Panthers. Jacquesson is one of the most aggressive shot takers in the country, ranking No. 16 in shots per game. 

Pitt will also rely on van der Sar, who is one of the best goalkeepers in the NCAA. The Dutch goalkeeper has recorded four shutouts in eight games. Pitt’s defensemen are also a solid group and will limit the Cavaliers’ ability to score. 

Ultimately, the Panthers have more talent. But don’t count out Virginia. With a few experienced players and an outstanding goaltender, the Cavaliers will put up a strong fight against the Panthers. 

The match will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday at Ambrose Urbanic Field in Pittsburgh. Coverage of the game will air on ACCNX.