Men’s Soccer: Pitt pulls away in second half, defeats Cal. U in exhibition


By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

Unable to finish early in its second preseason game, despite controlling play, the Pitt men’s soccer team found the solution in the second half, defeating California University (Pa.).

The scrimmage, a 3-0 Panther victory, took place at a rainy Ambrose Urbanic Field on Wednesday. The victory marked the seventh consecutive year the Panthers and Vulcans have played in the preseason, for which Pitt owns a 6-0-1 record against Cal U, a Division II school.

“We were all physically prepared,” sophomore forward Romeo Charron said of his team’s performance. “We were able to push offensively and combine in the last third [of the field].”

The result was an improvement from the Panthers’ first exhibition game, which they lost to Saint Francis (Pa.), a Division I school,  2-0. While the game didn’t count in the standings, the lack of offensive execution held importance, as it was a theme of last year’s unsuccessful season.

“We had these same opportunities against Saint Francis but we weren’t able to finish in the last third like tonight,” said head coach Joe Luxbacher.

Luxbacher used a 4-3-3 formation this game, trying to manufacture a cure for the Panthers’ offensive struggles. The formation employs four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards and is often used at the international level to win the ball possession battle over the other team.

The formation was successful and Pitt was able to limit Cal’s offensive opportunities to infrequent counterattacks.

But while Pitt outplayed the Vulcans in the first half — registering six shots on goal compared to their two — it still had yet to score in 135 minutes of competitive soccer this season.

Freshman midfielder Darcy Bloeman had the best chance through 45 minutes, chipping the ball over the goalie from outside the box and hitting the underside of the crossbar.

As Pitt went another half without a goal, Panther fans could be forgiven for wondering if their team was destined for yet another empty score sheet.

But, early in the second half, the home team ended its drought as freshman Raj Kahlon sent a strike past Cal’s goalkeeper, Shane Donovan, in the 47th minute, following two creative passes by Romeo Charron and Dan Prete.

“It was a cool feeling since I’m only a freshman,” Kahlon said. “The buildup to the goal was incredible, kind of like [FC] Barcelona.”

The second half was not only dominated by Pitt, but Mother Nature, too, as rain fell from the 48th minute onward. Despite the sloppy conditions, the Panthers continued to use their ball control to create multiple high volume chances in the final third of the field and, eventually, take hold of the contest.

The game was blown open in the 78th minute when senior Michael Tuohy converted a free kick to give the Panthers some breathing room and a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish. Cory Werth added a third goal on a break in the 88th minute.

Pitt finished the game with 18 shots — a major improvement from their first exhibition game when nine were taken — and held the Vulcans to only eight opportunities.

Similar to their first exhibition game, Luxbacher gave nearly every Panther a chance to make their mark on the game, as 22 different players took the field.

“Our goal is always to win the exhibition,” he said. “But at the same time we try to use different guys in different spots.”

Luxbacher also gave two of his three goalkeepers playing time. Sophomore Braden Horton and probable starter junior Dan Lynd combined for a shutout, recording three overall saves.

While the dominant performance should give the Panthers an emotional lift, Luxbacher believes the team still has plenty of work to do.

“We still have to improve our quickness because we were a little slow at times,” he said. “But it was a good effort tonight.”

The Panthers return to action Sunday afternoon in a cross-town exhibition versus Duquesne. It will be Pitt’s last scrimmage before they begin the regular season against Presbyterian on Aug. 30. Both games are at home.