Panthers struggle at home against Denver, escape with 2-2 draw


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Freshman defender Jackson Gilman (2) competes for the ball during the Pitt men’s soccer game vs. Denver Monday night.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

No. 25 Pitt men’s soccer fought back from a late deficit, forcing a 2-2 draw against No. 10 Denver at Ambrose Urbanic Field Monday night. The Panthers struggled on both sides of the ball, but managed to escape with a draw against the Pioneers.

Pitt (5-5-3, 2-2-1 ACC) desperately needed a win following a four-game winless skid. Instead, the Panthers finished with their third draw in five games, taking their winless streak to five. Despite drawing against a highly ranked opponent, head coach Jay Vidovich was not pleased with his team’s performance.

“The effort and the quality was below our standards,” Vidovich said. “I’ll give some of that to Denver. Their squad is very motivated and collected. But I thought our performance was below our standard of what we would expect in every which way.”

Pitt seriously lacked in the shooting department, only taking eight shots compared to the Pioneers’ 11. The Panthers are typically very aggressive shot takers, averaging 15.5 shots per game on the year. Vidovich said the Panthers are always lacking in some areas of their game, never fully cohesive on the pitch. 

“We seem to be missing a different piece of the puzzle every day,” Vidovich said. “When we find one, it seems to be another piece missing.”

The Panthers struggled in the first five minutes of play, as the Pioneers dominated possession of the ball. Pitt also made a few sloppy errors to start the game, committing two fouls within the first five minutes. 

But Pitt quickly recovered and briefly forced the ball into Pioneer territory. Still, neither team managed a shot within the first 20 minutes of play. 

Sophomore midfielder Sam Bassett finally found a scoring opportunity for Denver, firing a shot toward the middle of the net. But Pitt goalie Joe van der Sar quickly halted any hopes of a Pioneer goal. 

Bassett was unfazed by the blocked shot. He once again found himself in scoring position in the 27th minute and this time he didn’t miss. Bassett took a long shot and found the bottom right corner of the goal, putting the Pioneers up 1-0. 

The typically aggressive Panthers could not generate any offense within the first 30 minutes. They finally found their groove in the 35th minute, when junior midfielder Filip Mirkovic fired a shot past Denver first year goalie Issac Neheme, leveling the match at one apiece. 

Denver nearly answered just five minutes later, when first year defenseman Dylan Akau was unmarked deep in Panther territory. But van der Sar did not allow the easy goal, using his body to stymie the Pioneer breakaway. 

Neither team could gain the upperhand on the scoreboard by the end of the half. Despite the 1-1 score, Denver clearly outperformed the Panthers offensively, outshooting Pitt 7-1. Denver continued their aggressive shooting attack early in the second half, when redshirt first year Ian Smith blasted a shot directly at van der Sar. 

Both teams failed to capitalize on major scoring chances in the early part of the second half. The referees awarded Pitt a crucial corner kick in the 54th minute. But the Panthers couldn’t capitalize off the opportunity, allowing Denver to clear the ball and avert disaster. 

The Pioneers also had a crucial scoring opportunity in the 57th minute when senior midfielder Aidan O’Toole’s shot just missed the left corner of the goal. 

Pioneer junior midfielder Ben Smith finally broke the stalemate in the 72nd minute, firing a shot into the bottom right of the goal, giving Denver a 2-1 lead. 

Then the Panthers found a miracle. In the 77th minute, Pioneer sophomore defender Jason Bellolli made a crucial mistake deep in the box, blocking the ball with his hands. This gave Panther sophomore forward Luis Sahmkow a late penalty kick. The sophomore forward came in clutch for the Panther, sneaking a shot past Neheme to score the tying goal. 

Sahmkow said he felt no fear lining up for the penalty kick.

“As players, we kind of live for that,” Sahmkow said. “I trust myself enough to go step up to the spot and bury it. I asked the guys if they’re ok with me taking it. And they said ‘yeah’ and gave it to me.”

The goal energized the stagnant Panther offense. Pitt rattled off two shots before being awarded another crucial corner kick in the 86th minute. The Panthers passed the ball around before Neheme blocked a shot out of bounds, giving the Panthers another corner kick. This time senior midfielder Valentin Noel launched a clear shot toward the goal, but missed just high of the net. 

Ultimately, the Panthers failed to capitalize on their late game push, with the game ending in a 2-2 draw. Vidovich has some serious questions regarding his team moving forward. 

“I think it’s time to see who they are as people,” Vidovich said. “What are their aspirations? Are they going to be more committed to playing? Are they going to be stronger on the ball? Stronger defensively?”

The Panthers look to end their recent cold streak on the road against Virginia Tech on Friday. The match will begin at 5 p.m. There is no television coverage of the game.