Men’s Soccer: Firster, Brode happy to be back after last year’s injuries

By Sergei Feldman

You often hear that injuries are a part of the game. For the Pitt men’s soccer team last season, the Panthers were of the unfortunate variety.

In the last game of the preseason against Penn State, senior midfielder Matt Firster dribbled the ball and said he felt he might have tweaked his quad muscle.

Hoping it was nothing, Firster said he learned the following game that he had endured a tear, which made him miss the rest of the season and red shirt.

It was a huge blow to the team, and three games into the season against Duquesne, sophomore Ryan Brode launched for a ball and came down with what he said felt like a groin injury.

Brode bought some time, hoping the pain might subside — it didn’t.

The next game, Brode said he felt more bothered with the pain and ultimately learned he had pulled his groin, causing the Panthers to add another player to the injury list.

“It was very depressing,” Firster said. “I never really got hurt like that before, but I knew that everything the trainers were putting me through would get me back to tip-top shape.”

As for the team, it managed to stay afloat in the earlier part of the season and even catapulted to one of its best starts in history. The Panthers jumped out to a 5-1-1 record, including a 1-0 win over then No. 20-ranked Rutgers.

But as Pitt ran into a stretch of competitive Big East conference games, losing the injured players started to affect the team’s overall performance.

Trainers would rehabilitate the injuries, but nothing could heal the injured players’ pain of watching the team struggle and knowing they couldn’t contribute.

“It was absolutely terrible,” Firster said.

Brode agreed.

“I started every game besides my first one freshman year,” he said. “I played every minute with the team, and not being able to help [on the field] was awful.”

The injuries to both players took skill out of the lineup, but in Brode’s case, an element of leadership was missed.

“I guess we lost some seniority [when I went down],” Brode said. “But I tried to do whatever I could to help out with the leadership and bestow whatever knowledge or experience I had with some of the other younger guys.”

With both players back in the lineup, head coach Joe Luxbacher and the other players said they see the value of depth.

Prior to the season opener last week, Luxbacher emphasized the importance of having players come off the bench and contribute, which proved to be the case in the Panthers’ first victory of the season.

That luxury wasn’t available last season, as many players were thrust into unfamiliar starting roles.

But the Panthers grew stronger from their adversity.

The 2009-10 season is just getting underway, so both players still have time to recover and contribute.

In the meantime, both Firster and Brode said they are confident with their progress and the likelihood that their performance will reveal they haven’t missed a beat.

“I probably have more expectations for myself now,” Brode said, while Firster said he’s “not hesitant one bit.”

With skill, leadership and undeniable toughness back in the lineup, the Panthers are poised to avenge last season’s Big East downfall and exceed expectations in the process.