Preview: Pitt men’s soccer gears up for NCAA tournament


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Graduate midfielder Lucas Rosa (6) and Valentin Noel (8) celebrate at the Pitt men’s soccer game versus West Virginia on Aug. 29.

By Brian Sherry, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt men’s soccer was sorely disappointed by Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection show. The Panthers failed to earn a top 16 seed for the first time since 2019. The top 16 seeds receive first round byes, meaning Pitt will face off against Horizon League champions Cleveland State on Thursday in the first round. 

The Panthers had an opportunity to earn a top 16 bid last week in the ACC tournament. Pitt battled to a 4-1 overtime victory against No. 11 seeded NC State in the first round. But a quarterfinal loss to No. 3 seeded Virginia cost the Panthers a chance to cement themselves in the top 16.

The 2022 campaign started out hot for Pitt, as they soared as high as No. 2 in the NCAA rankings. But a five game winless streak in the middle of the season severely slowed the red hot Panthers. Pitt rebounded with clutch wins against Virginia Tech and cross-town rival No. 25 Duquesne. Ultimately the team finished the season on another cold streak, winning only one of their last four games. 

Now the Panthers’ season rests on one game against Cleveland State. The Vikings caught fire in Horizon League play, eventually cruising to a 5-1-3 conference record. They ultimately won the Horizon League title in dominant fashion, shutting out IUPUI 3-0 in the championship game.  

The Vikings play tough on defense, allowing only 1.26 goals per game. But Pitt clearly boasts a better offense than the Vikings, at least on paper. The Panthers shoot 14.71 shots per game, compared to only 13.89 from Cleveland State. Pitt also outscores the Vikings, scoring 2.00 goals per game compared to Cleveland State’s 1.95 goals. 

Cleveland State is led by junior forward Bojan Kolevski and senior midfielder Pablo Kawecki. The duo dominated the 2022 campaign for the Vikings, posting a combined 19 goals. Kolevski also led the team in points with 25 total. The Panthers need to slow down Kolevski and Kawecki if they want to advance into the second round. 

If the Panthers beat the Vikings, then they will face No. 16 seeded Akron in the second round. The Panthers faced the Zips at home earlier this season. Akron overpowered Pitt early in the game, scoring two goals within the opening 18 minutes. But the Panthers battled back, ultimately settling for a 3-3 draw against the Zips.

But this potential second round matchup will play out differently than the last game. Akron will receive home field advantage as the higher seed. Also, the game can not end in a draw since only one team can advance

The winner of this match up will likely face No. 1 seeded Kentucky. To say the Wildcats dominated the 2022 campaign is an understatement. The Wildcats are the nation’s only unbeaten team, finishing the season with a 14-0-5 record. Kentucky also dominated the Sun Belt conference tournament, only allowing one goal in three games. The Wildcats finished off the tournament by torching James Madison 2-0. Kentucky will play the winner of the South Florida vs. Hofstra game. 

But Kentucky isn’t the only team with title-winning potential. Pac-12 champions Washington is seeded No. 2, but they aren’t far behind Kentucky. The Huskies fell to Clemson in last year’s NCAA final. Like Kentucky, the Huskies also dominated this season, only dropping one game to Oregon State. Washington will face the winner of the Creighton vs. Missouri State game. 

Another team to look out for is No. 3 seeded Syracuse. The Orange dominated the ACC tournament, beating Clemson 2-0 to claim the ACC crown. Now Syracuse will take on the winner of the Penn vs. Rutgers game. 

Tournament Prediction: Washington will take down Kentucky to win the national title

Earlier in the year, Pitt played like a team with title-winning potential. But Pitt’s abysmal second half of the season all but eliminates them from the title conversation. Now other teams like Kentucky and Washington possess all the momentum going into the tournament. Meanwhile, the Panthers are limping into the postseason.

Will Pitt make a Cinderella run and claim the title in Cary, North Carolina? Probably not, but it is not impossible. If Pitt can make it to the third round and take down Kentucky, then they might gain enough momentum to carry them to Cary. But it’s a long shot. 

The Panthers will take on Cleveland State on Thursday at Ambrose Urbanic Field. The match will begin at 7 p.m. and coverage will air on ACCNX.