Panthers return after loss to one of ACC’s top teams


By Jack DeMarco / Staff Writer

Every time a team returns home to play, it’s happy to have home-field advantage back. But while the men’s soccer team’s next game won’t technically be at home, returning to the area after this weekend will still be especially relieving.

After losing 4-1 to the ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals over the weekend, the Pitt men’s soccer team will play Tuesday in nearby Moon Township for a road match against the Robert Morris Colonials. Unfortunately, the 2014 schedule has not been kind to the Panthers, and it doesn’t look like it will ease up by any means. 

The Panthers currently sit last in the ACC Coastal division with a 0-2-1 record, and they have a 2-3-3 record overall. Getting a win will be crucial for moving forward.

In fact, when Pitt plays Virginia — its next game after Robert Morris — it plays its third top-25 ACC opponent in four conference games. The ACC is daunting for anyone to navigate, as the conference leads Division-I men’s soccer in the rating percentage index, or RPI. Over the past four games, Pitt has not won, and it simply has not shown the confidence needed to change things.

“We have to be mentally tough,” Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher said. “Our players are timid when we have played big-time teams, which needs to change.”

On the other hand, Robert Morris is even-keeled on the season with four wins and four losses and has only played out-of-conference games. The Colonials’ offense revolves around perennial goal-scorer Neco Brett, a junior forward from Jamaica. Last season, Brett led the nation in regular season scoring with 36 points and 14 goals. 

By these standards, Brett is already off to a fast start, scoring eight goals and reaching 18 points through nine games so far. Brett’s body of work is supported by the sidekick effort of junior forward Bruce Cullen, who has five assists.

On the back end, the Colonials depend on junior goalie Brenden Alfery, who has seen his fair share of shots. Opponents have fired on net 64 times and have converted on 12 occasions. Alfery denied the other 52, making his save count the third highest for all goalies nationwide.

“Robert Morris is a very dangerous team,” Luxbacher said. “We have to play really well as a team to win.”

Against Louisville, junior midfielder Patrick Dixon provided his first assist of the year to sophomore Kevin Murray in the team’s lone goal in the 4-1 defeat.

Murray and senior Dan Prete currently lead the Panthers with two goals apiece. As a team, 11 players have recorded at least one point, as a leading offensive playmaker has not emerged.

However, the mistakes and shortcomings of the Panthers are fixable. Luxbacher and his players said many of their deficits have been the result of intangible qualities like poise, effort and overall focus.

“We have had mental lapses, and we need a sense of urgency to win our battles,” said junior defender Kevin Fielden.

Robert Morris and Pitt share one common opponent, Duquesne, against whom the Panthers fared slightly better. The Panthers beat Duquesne in an exhibition match 2-0, while Robert Morris played the Dukes two games ago and lost 4-1. Nonetheless, Pitt seems to be ready to rejuvenate its season. Dixon agrees.

“If we play our game, we can put together a solid performance,” he said.

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