After important tie, Panthers aim to avoid letdown


By Jack DeMarco / Staff Writer

There was a glaring trend in the stat book for the Pitt men’s soccer team up until its last game.

For five straight matches, the Panthers either delivered a shutout or suffered one. Even though its 1-1 tie against North Carolina State on Saturday broke the streak, building momentum is the biggest concern for Pitt (2-2-2) as it approaches the midway point of the regular season. The team will play a non-conference matchup against Niagara University at the Petersen Sports Complex tonight.

With pressure rising to put together solid consecutive performances to end this current homestand, momentary relief echoed in the Pitt locker room after tying the Wolfpack. The draw gave the Panthers their first ACC  points of the fall and was what many players say was their “best outing” into tonight’s game.

“Getting a point in the ACC this early in the season is huge to get the monkey off our back,” said junior goalie Dan Lynd. “But we can’t overlook Niagara. They are a solid team.”

Niagara (3-4) will travel to Pittsburgh for a second time this season after appearing in the Duquesne Invitational earlier this month. The Purple Eagles weren’t triumphant then, by losing both of their scheduled games. More recently, Niagara endured a disappointing 1-0 home loss to Detroit Sunday, urging the players to quickly forget that loss since tonight’s game will come after one day of rest.

Leading the way for Purple Eagles are senior forward Callum Willmott and junior midfielder Andrew Ferguson, who have registered two goals and two assists, respectively. On the contrary, a notable imbalance that clarifies Niagara’s sub-0.500 record comes from the netminders. Throughout seven games, freshmen goalkeepers Steve Casey and Joel Gerberich have split time ineffectively. As a pair, their average save percentage is 63.6 percent, and their goals-allowed average is 1.68.

Pitt enters the matchup with worries of its own. The Panthers haven’t won in three games and need a confidence booster before heading to No. 9 Louisville Friday, which tops the ACC standings, according to head coach Joe Luxbacher.

“We have to get better,” Luxbacher said. “We have a young team, and improving as a unit will be key down the stretch.”

The inability for the Panthers to shut down opponents late in games can be directly attributed to the second-half struggles they’ve faced through six games — Pitt has a (-2) scoring margin for goals scored in the final half of play. Also, Pitt has lost or tied in every game its trailed thus far.

That said, the Panthers certainly have shown signs of comfort when playing on their home turf, owning a 1-0-2 record. In addition, the defense has been strong, only surrendering one goal in those games. However, Niagara has fared better on the road (2-1) than at home or at neutral sites (1-3), explaining why the mental toughness of the Purple Eagles has caught Luxbacher’s eye.

“Niagara is a big and strong team,” he said. “Imposing our game plan will be important to be successful.”

Attacking by committee has been the story for Pitt this season. Its five goals have come from five different scorers. No single player steals the spotlight, and redshirt senior Cory Werth, who has four points this season, thinks that dynamic is good.

“We definitely want to get everyone involved,” Werth said. “Everyone is contributing and making their time count.”