Pitt flustered by veteran Washington squad in shutout loss

By Kevin Wheeler / Staff Writer

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The youth of the Pitt women’s soccer team caught up to it when facing the Washington Huskies.

The Huskies are a team that closely resembles much of the competition Pitt will run into during the latter part of this season in ACC play. On Sunday, the Panthers suffered from a slight attack of nerves against the more experienced and more talented visitors, which prompted them to play with a hurried, disorganized pace and lose 1-0.

Head coach Greg Miller scheduled this game two years ago to test his young players, before conference games came around, and he gave the Huskies (4-0) all the credit for taking his team out of their element.

“They’re a quality side. They’re athletic they’re physical, so they were pressing us and taking a lot of possession opportunities away from us,” Miller said. “But hopefully, these kinds of games are ones we learn from so we’re better in the moments that we need to be.”

Losing this game was a necessary evil for the Panthers (3-2), a team with aspirations of making noise in the ACC later this season, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Pitt got a taste of top-notch talent only five games into 2014.

“A lot of what [Washington] brings athletically and from a talent perspective is what we’re going to face,” Miller said. “You put these kinds of games on your schedule so that you don’t go into the ACC season unprepared or blind.”

The game had a hectic pace in the early going, with both teams finding ample opportunities to score as they swiftly drove up and down the field. It was only a matter of time before someone broke through for a goal.

In the 25th minute, senior midfielder Kate Bennett led the Washington attack up the left sideline near the corner of the field.  Seeing she would have no shot on goal from her position, she banged a crossing pass toward the penalty stripe in front of the Pitt goal, where senior forward Jaclyn Softli was waiting for her opportunity. Before the ball even touched the ground, Softli slammed the ball out of mid-air with her left foot and into the back left corner of the net, past the diving keeper Taylor Francis to put Washington up 1-0.

The Huskies would never relinquish that lead. They were more physical than their opponents, which put the Panthers out of their comfort zone. The pace was frantic for the Panthers’ offense, which was a by-product of nerves for freshman forward Taylor Pryce.

“The chances are going to come, [we] just have to be more composed on offense and, if we start doing that, then the goals will start coming as well,” Pryce said.

Miller wanted to see more fire out of his team in the second half, and his wish was quickly granted.

As the second half opened up, tempers flared. In the 58th minute, after a no-call by the referees when Washington’s Softli was taken down on a scoring chance in the box, the Huskies became visibly upset. Softli retaliated with a foul of her own, prompting the referees to issue her a yellow card. Pitt’s Emma Pozzulo would get a yellow card, just seven minutes later. The game had turned chippy — and it remained that way for the rest of the contest.  

“They were kind of punching us in the face, so to speak, and we were just kind of standing there bleeding instead of responding. And I think we did a wonderful job in the second half of rising to the challenge,” Miller said.

Despite the Panthers’ increased efforts in the second half, they were unable to put a goal on the board. Senior defender and captain Jackie Poucel knew this would be a difficult test for her younger teammates.

“We’re young, we haven’t played a team like them yet; they’re Pac-12 and always in the NCAA Tournament,” Poucel said. “We were playing a little panicked, but I think we had some good chances today. We just weren’t able to get that final ball through.”

Washington had the Panthers on their heels from start to finish. The opponents forced the Panthers to play a game they don’t know how to play yet, and it showed.

“When you play a slower team, you play slower, and when you play a faster team, you play faster,” Poucel said. “We kind of tend to raise our level depending on the team we play, which isn’t exactly how we’d like to do it, but it happens.”

Pitt’s next test will come next weekend as it goes on the road for games against La Salle on Friday and Villanova on Sunday.  

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