Panthers analyze play against UNC


By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

North Carolina defeated Pitt handily Friday in the ACC opener for both teams, but, according to the Panthers, the box score doesn’t reflect how the team played against the third-ranked team in the country.

After their second loss of the season, the Pitt men’s soccer team returned to practice Monday in preparation for their three-game homestand against Lafayette, North Carolina State and Niagara, which begins Wednesday night. 

The 3-0 result  in Chapel Hill, N.C., was similar to the scoreline against William and Mary in the Panthers’ first road game on Sept. 5, in which they lost by four goals due to multiple defensive miscues. Still, coach Joe Luxbacher said the lopsided score is where the similarities end.

“We played better for 70 minutes against North Carolina than we did (against) William and Mary,” Luxbacher said. “We gave up a bad second goal and that sort of broke our back.”

Luxbacher was referring to a goal scored by Nyambi Jabang of the Tar Heels, who also assisted on the first goal.

Although they were overwhelmingly the underdogs, Pitt (2-2, 0-1 ACC) kept up with UNC for the first half and the beginning of the second half, until its defense let them down, leading to Jabang’s first goal of the season.

The Panthers stifled the Tar Heels (4-1, 1-0 ACC) in the first half with a more conservative playing style, utilizing a 4-5-1 formation, which differed from their usual 4-3-3 formation. 

Luxbacher said that the team was forced to drop its wing forwards back in the formation due to the increased pressure and possession by North Carolina on their back three. 

Counterintuitively, the Panthers only had one offensive threat up top for most of the first half — forward Patrick Dixon. Dixon held the ball on long passes so the rest of Pitt’s offense could catch up and join the counterattack.

“I thought there were the times that the boys were able to come up with me and we were able to find the two wingers cutting in,” Dixon said. “Yeah, it didn’t always work, but it was enjoyable.”

When asked if he was at all frustrated with the lack of offensive help and possession at times, Dixon quickly shrugged off the notion, realizing that it was just a result of the team they were playing against.

But Luxbacher understands that his team must be able to possess the ball if they are to have a chance against top ACC opponents. Although they didn’t establish much sustained offensive pressure, the Panthers were still one shot away from tying the game at halftime.

The Panthers’ first-half performance resulted in several opportunities at goal, as Ryan Myers would come up from his right back position to provide an added threat. 

“We wanted to keep possession of the ball, and part of that is breaking down the first level of their pressure and then allowing me to get a little higher up and support the forwards and the midfield,” Myers said. “Possessing with numbers was our strategy going in, and it worked pretty well for the first 30 to 40 minutes.”

Myers, who has proven to be a versatile player for Pitt this season when he maneuvers down the wing, acknowledged that his team became tired and undisciplined in the late stages of the first half and early second half. 

Playing a complete game has been a repeated phrase from Luxbacher to his team this season, and the panthers have to continue to gain lessons from games like these in upcoming weeks as they enter the heart of the ACC schedule.

“For 70 minutes, I thought we played pretty well,” Luxbacher said. “But, again, it’s a 90-minute game, and I’m constantly harping to the guys, you can’t give up bad goals.”

The Panthers return to action this Wednesday as they take on Lafayette College at Ambrose Urbanic Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.