Column | Pitt men’s soccer can still compete, but the clock is ticking


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Graduate midfielder Ideal Shefqeti (15) bounces the ball off of his head during the Pitt men’s soccer game vs. Akron in September.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

No. 25 Pitt men’s soccer tied with No. 23 Clemson (8-2-1, 2-2-1 ACC) on Friday night, giving the Panthers a 5-3-2 overall record and a 2-2-1 record in the ACC. In years past, these records would meet and perhaps exceed expectations, but this is a far cry from what Head Coach Jay Vidovich and company is used to two-thirds of the way through the 2022 season.

The last two seasons saw Pitt advance to the College Cup in 2020, then to the Elite Eight in 2021. The Panthers couldn’t advance past those two rounds in each season. 

With just five games remaining, the Panthers have an interesting tournament resume. Two top-ten wins against No. 2 Georgetown and No. 6 West Virginia, and a ranking as high as two in the United Soccer Coaches poll. But they also have two losses against ranked opponents, both on the road against No. 11 Marshall and No. 25 Louisville. The losses on the road can be chalked up to Pitt allowing the home team to remain in control throughout the match. 

The Thundering Herd scored two quick goals in the first half of their game on Sept. 2, then sat back as Pitt couldn’t get a ball past graduate student goalkeeper Oliver Semmile until the 72nd minute. Likewise, Louisville didn’t waver after allowing the tying goal on Sept. 23 and scored the game-winning tally with 30 minutes still left on the clock. Pitt couldn’t tie the game back up in those 30 minutes.

Louisville head coach John Michael Hayden respects the Pitt coaching staff, but even the No. 8 team in the nation didn’t faze the Cardinals.

“Jay [Vidovich] is a phenomenal coach,” he said. “But they were tweaking things as the game was going, and I noticed it, and we tweaked ourselves.”

Pitt couldn’t counter-respond against Louisville or Marshall, and they dropped both of those games. Even if the Panthers moved on from those ranked losses, the committee won’t forget. They have four tough games left out of five — No. 10 Denver, a Duquesne team previously ranked as high as No. 24, No. 2 Duke and Notre Dame. 

The Fighting Irish single-handedly ruined Pitt’s season last year. They first ended a four-game winning streak with a 1-0 double-overtime win at home, then ended the Panthers’ ACC hopes on Pitt’s own home turf. Finally, Notre Dame’s win in the penalty shootout of the Elite Eight ended Pitt’s season for good.

Pitt brought back several players after that disappointing finish in 2021, but not all of them returned to their level of production from last season. Sophomore midfielder Guilherme Feitosa missed five games with injury. The 2021 All-ACC Freshman team member scored just once in his five games, compared to five goals in 19 games last season

Graduate student midfielder Rodrigo Almeida has also seen his numbers dip. After a career season with seven goals and 20 points, the Brazilian has regressed back to his pre-2021 stats — no more than three points and six shots on goal for the season. Through 10 games in 2022, he has just two assists and four shots on goal.

With a slight drop in production, Pitt can’t afford to let any more teams strut into Ambrose Urbanic field and leave with at least a point. The Panthers are winless in their last three home games (0-1-2), which included an embarrassing 3-1 loss to then-unranked Virginia on Sept. 30. Vidovic came away from that match with mixed emotions.

“We weren’t able to capitalize,” he told Pittsburgh Soccer Now. “Not sharp enough. Not enough minutes together, but at the same time I saw a lot of good things from the guys. Very disappointed.”

And that sums up the 2022 Pitt team quite well. They know they can win games regardless of the location, but little sloppy mistakes have added up, and the Panthers have fallen in the rankings because of it. 

Now on a four-game winless streak, the Panthers are running out of time to make up ground. They can still compete for championships under Vidovich — they’re in the running for an ACC title if they can finish their remaining schedule strong. But the window for a national title, while not shut yet, is gradually closing.