Men’s soccer ready to rebound, put past behind

By Jay Huerbin

Excitement for this year’s Pitt men’s soccer team is high.

After all, you have to want… Excitement for this year’s Pitt men’s soccer team is high.

After all, you have to want redemption after going 3-13-2 last year.

And Pitt coach Joe Luxbacher said he’s ready to get that redemption.

‘I think we’re much deeper at every position,’ said Luxbacher.

‘There is a lot of competition, which is good. It makes every player raise [his] level.’

So far, the Panthers seem to be on track for a much-improved season, having gone 2-0-1 thus far in preseason exhibition games.

Pittsburgh has shut out both California University of Pennsylvania (3-0) and Mount St. Mary’s (2-0) in home scrimmages at Founders Field, while settling for a 2-2 tie at Penn State.

Although they’re just preseason games, the Panthers coaching staff is happy with what they’ve seen so far.

‘We really dominated the game,’ said Luxbacher of the win over California University.

‘Although they’re a Division II team, a win is always nice and is good for the confidence of the players.’

But the Panthers, who are entering their 53rd year at Pitt, have not named their captains for this upcoming season.

Luxbacher is expected to speak with assistant coach Brian Retzloff to discuss how to approach the captain situation this year.

The vacancy might be filled any number of ways ranging from a season captain to a captain on a game-by-game case.

‘A soccer team requires a lot of leaders, not just the captains,’ said Luxbacher of the undecided issue.

‘We’re looking for guys who lead by example. That’s what this team needs.’

On the goaltending front, the starting position is still up for grabs as both red-shirted seniors Eric Barnes and Jordan Marks have been getting equal playing time thus far during practice and scrimmages.

Last season, Marks started the majority of the games, but both Barnes and Marks had similar goals-against averages, which might suggest the increase in competition already at this stage.

Offensively the Panthers look to be led by last season’s top goal (4) and point (9) getter, senior E.J. McCormick. Other players who figure to contribute this year include junior Matt Baker, who last season was the team’s shot leader (27), along with sophomore Ryan Brode.

Senior Matt Foster should anchor the Panthers defense, which is expected to be much well improved this season.

‘The defense is much better this season,’ said Luxbacher.

‘[That] will help the offense by creating more turnovers and opportunities for scoring.’

Andy Kalas, who enters his sophomore year, is also expected to contribute heavily on the defense, while still providing an offensive touch after having scored two goals last season. Junior Samuli Ahola is another top returning defenseman.

The Panthers have played three preseason exhibition games as the tuned up for their first tournament hosted by Robert Morris University. The 10-day, four-opponent series begins Aug. 29 and will be Pitt’s first look at the intensity and stamina a tournament brings.

Albany, which will also attend the tournament, is expected to be the team’s toughest challenge thus far.

Following the Robert Morris tournament, the Panthers will host a three-day invitational starting Sept. 12. Pitt will face both Bryant University and Western Michigan before beginning the regular season on Sept. 19 at home against Rutgers.

Of the season ahead, the coaching staff talked little of games late in the season.

‘You go into every game looking for a positive result,’ said Luxbacher.

‘But you always play the game that is ahead of you. That’s what we stress to the players.’