Preview | Pitt men’s soccer prepares for showdown against defending national champion Clemson


TPN File Photo

A soccer ball on Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s soccer is at a crucial point in the 2022 campaign. The Panthers recently dropped two games to No. 25 Louisville and unranked Virginia, causing them to tumble 15 spots in the rankings to No. 25. Two straight losses isn’t enough to spoil a season, but the road ahead does not get any easier. 

The Panthers will face a string of challenging opponents, including No. 10 Denver and No. 2 Duke. But Pitt faces a familiar and equally challenging foe before these matchups — defending national champions No. 23 Clemson Tigers. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 2-0 last season on the road, prior to Clemson taking the national title. This year, the Tigers will travel to Ambrose Urbanic Field on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. for a clash with the Panthers under the lights. 

Like the Panthers, Clemson is in the midst of a slump. The Tigers dropped two of their last four, including a 6-1 blowout loss to Wake Forest at home. If the Tigers wish to defend their national title, then they must break out of this slump. Ultimately, this is a must-win game for both teams, with the loser likely dropping out of the top 25. 

Clemson and Pitt are similar programs, both historically and on the pitch. But Clemson is always one step ahead of the Panthers. The two programs met in the 2020 ACC title game, with Clemson ultimately prevailing. Pitt reached the NCAA semifinals in 2020, but the Tigers one upped them in 2021 and won it all. After all of their recent success, the Panthers just can’t seem to escape the Tigers’ shadow. 

And the two teams play similar styles. Both play aggressively on offense, with an abundance of passing and shooting. Clemson ranks No. 16 in the country in assists with 2.40 per game. But the Panthers trail right behind, ranking No. 18 in assists with 2.33 per game. The Panthers edge out the Tigers in shots per game, shooting 15.78 times per game compared to 15.40 from Clemson. Look for both teams to unload dozens of shots before the final whistle. 

Junior midfielder Ousmane Sylla leads the Tigers’ offensive attack. Sylla is one of the ACC’s premier players, leading the conference in points per game. The Senegalese midfielder also heavily contributed to the Tigers’ championship run last season, earning second-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore. Sylla also shines as a facilitator, ranking No. 5 in the ACC in assists per game last season. The Panthers have to keep a close eye on Sylla if they wish to stymie the Tigers’ potent offense. 

Senior forward Mohamed Seye also contributes to the Clemson offense. Like Sylla, Seye excels at passing the ball, currently leading the Tigers in assists with six. Sylla and Seye have good chemistry on the field. Seye assisted Sylla’s two goals in a 3-2 win over Indiana. The duo are ultimately the heart and soul of the Clemson program. 

Clemson dominates on offense, but the Tigers aren’t strong defensively. Wake Forest exposed the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses, unloading six goals in the blowout. Clemson ranks outside the top 50 in goal differential and team goals against average. 

But the Panthers don’t fare much better on defense. Pitt showed serious defensive weakness in its last three games, giving up eight goals total in those contests. But the Panthers have shown flashes of greatness on defense earlier in the season. Pitt shut out rival West Virginia 3-0 and went on a three-game streak of no scores allowed. The Panther defense needs to return to its early season dominance if it wants to topple the reigning national champions. 

Both teams’ goalkeepers have also had up and down seasons. Clemson started two different goalkeepers this year — first-year Joseph Andema and junior Trevor Manion. Andema played in five games this season, allowing no goals. Manion also played in five games, but gave up 11 goals on the season. It is unclear which goalie will play. Clemson typically relies on the more experienced Manion in big games. But that changed earlier this week when Andema started in the Tigers’ 1-0 victory over North Carolina. 

Senior Joe van der Sar started in all nine games for the Panthers this season. The Dutch keeper started off the year hot, boasting four shutouts in six games to start the 2022 campaign. But van der Sar recently struggled in the Panther’s disappointing three-game skid. The senior keeper needs to use his experience and outplay Clemson’s younger goalkeeping unit. 

Ultimately, this is a must-win for both teams. If the Panthers can’t pull out a win, then they are in jeopardy of losing a spot in the NCAA tournament. But the Panthers can and should win this game. 

This year’s Clemson team is not nearly as good as last year’s championship-winning roster. Pitt’s defense will be hard-pressed to defend against Clemson’s attack. But the Panther offense will make up the difference and overwhelm the inexperienced Clemson goalies. 

The match will begin at 8 p.m. at Ambrose Urbanic Field. Coverage will air on the ACC Network.