Pitt men’s soccer sees former players shine in the pros


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A soccer ball on Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field.

By Dylan Grace, Staff Writer

After a deep run in the Division 1 Men’s NCAA Tournament last season, the Pitt men’s soccer program continued to shine bright on a national display. Under head coach Jay Vidovich, the Panthers evolved into a perennial title contender and are now seeing former players shine on the professional stage.

After the club’s second trip to the College Cup in 2022, the Panthers saw three of their very own get drafted in the MLS SuperDraft, marking the first time in program history the club had three draft picks in the first two rounds. 

In the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, forward Bertin Jacquesson became the highest-selected Panther in program history when he was taken 16th overall by Real Salt Lake. 

Former All-ACC midfielder Valentin Noel was selected shortly after Jacquesson when he was drafted 20th overall by Austin FC. In the second round, former walk-on midfielder Jackson Walti joined his former teammate Noel and was selected 56th overall by Austin FC. 

Along with the three Panthers drafted, four key players from the 2022 squad also signed professional contracts for MLS affiliates. Graduate student defenseman Yanis Leerman signed a contract to join Loudoun United FC. Senior defenseman Mohammad Abualnadi and graduate student defenseman Lucas Rosa both signed with Sporting KC II. Graduate student defenseman Henrique Gallina signed with Chicago FC II.

At the midway point of the 2023 MLS season, multiple Panthers are making significant contributions to their professional clubs.

Jacquesson, the only Panther 2023 draft choice to appear in the MLS this season, has battled for minutes against many veterans in Salt Lake City. In his rookie campaign, Jacquesson has appeared in eight games, starting in three of them. In 302 total minutes played, Jacquesson has recorded one assist and ten scoring attempts. 

With only so little time on the pitch, Jacquesson’s stats do not reflect his future with the club. The former ACC Freshman of the Year and three-time All-ACC second-teamer will surely break out on the MLS stage. During his time at Pitt, Jacquesson scored 19 goals paired with 23 assists in 4,320 minutes played and played an integral part of two College Cup trips for the Panthers.

Both Noel and Walti have started their professional careers at Austin FC II — the developmental affiliate of Austin FC. In his first season, Noel has continued to showcase his dynamic playmaker abilities, scoring five goals and one assist in 1,194 total minutes played. At Pitt, Noel was a vital component of the offensive attack. The second all-time club leader in goals recorded 35 goals, 13 assists and 83 total points as a Panther. During the 2022 postseason run for Pitt, the two-time All- American exploded offensively, posting four goals and eight points in the Panthers’ Final Four run. 

At Austin FC II, Walti has seen limited playing time in only nine games and 424 total minutes. Waiti was an Iron Horse during his time at Pitt, adding intense defense and leadership for an all-time ferocious Panther defense. In 101 games played, Walti broke the minutes record at Pitt, recording 9,069 total minutes along with adding six goals and five assists. Walti earned All-ACC Second Team three straight seasons for the Panthers.

Abualnadi and Rosa have seen valuable action in their time at Sporting KC II. Abualnadi has played in 6 games so far this season for Kansas City. In 408 total minutes played, the former All-ACC Academic Team member has recorded six tackles won, along with one attacking assist. 

Rosa has played in 14 games this season, scoring one goal and one assist. Rosa has also excelled in the passing department, posting an 82.3 accurate pass percentage in 1188 total minutes. 

Leerman and Gallina have seen limited action for their prospective clubs in 2023. Leerman has seen action in eight total games for Loudoun United FC, posting 719 total minutes on the pitch. Gallina has appeared in six games at Chicago FC, playing in only 608 total minutes.

While these former Panthers have only seen limited playing time with their new clubs, the future still looks bright. Players like Jaquesson and Noel could become MLS stars if they develop enough. Ultimately, the success of these players shows just how dominant Pitt soccer is becoming under Vidovich.