Men’s soccer: Panthers drop first two games of the season

By Greg Trietley

The Pitt men’s soccer team left Pennsylvania undefeated and on a roll through its first four… The Pitt men’s soccer team left Pennsylvania undefeated and on a roll through its first four games.

Then, they came back home 4-2 and on a two-game losing streak.

The Panthers suffered their first two defeats of the season at the Big East Partner Weekend in Morgantown, W.Va., falling 2-0 to both James Madison and Cal State-Fullerton.

“We have to look at everything,” Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher said. “We’re not going to make any major wholesale changes by any stretch — we’re still 4-2 and we’re creating good chances — but we have to definitely find some guys who can put [chances] away, and right now we haven’t found those guys.”

Pitt and James Madison kicked off Friday with identical perfect records, but the Dukes preserved theirs and ended the Panthers’ run by capitalizing on two early opportunities.

Markus Bjorkheim roofed a shot into the upper-right corner of the goal in the fifth minute to put the Panthers in an early hole.

The Norwegian sophomore scored again off a direct kick in the 31st minute to up the lead to two, and goalkeeper Ken Manahan made seven saves to keep it that way.

More goals off set pieces hurt Pitt Sunday against Cal State-Fullerton. Kevin Venegas headed in his first goal of the season off an Oscar Aguero free kick from the corner in the 17th minute, and he scored again off a corner from Aguero in the 28th minute.

“We gave up two goals off dead-ball situations, which we practice all the time,” Luxbacher said. “It’s disappointing, but also we weren’t outplayed by any stretch of the imagination.”

Pitt had the edge in corners in both games, 11-4 against James Madison and 12-6 against the Cal State-Fullerton Titans.

“We had not given up a goal off a corner kick all year,” Luxbacher said. “We gave up two [against the Titans], really. One was a free kick, but it was from the corner. We had 12 corner kicks and didn’t score one. They had six and scored two. That’s the difference in the game.”

“We had been strong on set pieces so far this season,” senior defender Andy Kalas said. “It was disapointing that we allowed those type of goals, but we’ll correct that going forward heading into Big East play.”

Cal State-Fullerton earned its first win of the season against the Panthers, improving to 1-3-2.

“[Against Cal State Fullerton] I thought we dominated the game,” Luxbacher said. “But you have to score goals, and we did not.”

Pitt’s struggles over the weekend came in the absence of two starters. Senior center Connor Malone did not travel to Morgantown because of an illness.

Terry Akpua, who has nine shots on goal in five games, did not play Sunday.

Olutomi Ibikunle, who came off the bench to score the golden goal in double overtime against St. Bonaventure, hurt himself before Sunday’s game and also could not play.

“We were missing some guys, but that’s no excuse,” Luxbacher said. “Guys who go in have to step up.”

The Big East Partner Weekend marked the first time Pitt traveled outside of Allegheny County for a game this year, but Luxbacher dismissed the notion that travel caused his team to play poorly.

“[We have to travel], but so does everybody else,” Luxbacher said. “Guys have to be ready to play.”

Pitt hits the road again to take on its first Big East opponent, the Syracuse Orange (1-5, 0-0 Big East), Saturday at 6 p.m.

“We just have to regroup,” Luxbacher said. “We’ll be ready for next weekend.”

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