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Welcome Back: Offense, or lack thereof, will dictate outcome of season

By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

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Unable to find the goal last season, the Pitt men’s soccer team has taken steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year.

The Panthers finished last season with an overall record of 1-11-4, and they went winless in conference play.

Although their first season in the ACC was a rude awakening, head coach Joe Luxbacher remains optimistic.

“We expect to be a much-improved team,” Luxbacher said. “We have a solid core returning, and feel that we have a recruiting class that will strengthen us in the areas that must be improved.”

Of all the returning starters, one of the most essential is junior midfielder and forward Ryan Myers, who finished the 2013 season with two goals and two assists. Myers has received consistent playing time since his arrival at Pitt in 2011, and he could quicken the learning curve for Pitt’s incoming recruiting class.

“I see my role changing within the team in that I will be looked up to as a leader,” Myers said. “I have plenty of experience against top-level competition that I can use to help the team be successful.”

Pitt will need players like Myers to increase the team’s offensive output from last season. The Panthers only managed a single goal in 11 conference games last year, ending the fall ranked last in the ACC in goals, points and shots.

Offensive success in soccer is often dictated by ball possession and pass accuracy, both of which the Panthers must improve going into this season.

“We most need to work on keeping the ball, which goes hand in hand with dictating the tempo and pace of the match,” Myers said. “By having possession we will see more goal-scoring opportunities.”

According to Myers, consistency and setting the tone offensively are two elements that the Panther coaches have stressed to the team during both the spring and summer training sessions.

The Panthers are bringing in a recruiting class largely defined by offensive talent. Seven of the nine Pitt commits are either midfielders, wings or strikers.

Pitt has increased its international influence over the last few seasons, landing players such as Michael Tuohy and Romeo Charron from Europe.

This year’s recruiting class features four new players from Canada and Europe, plus an Australian, wing Patrick Dixon. If inserted into the starting lineup, Dixon, a transfer from the Catholic University of Australia, could add an element of creativity that was lacking last season for the Panthers.

It will be important for the coaching staff to mold the lineup with incoming talent, such as Dixon and freshmen Darcy Bloeman and Matt Bischoff, to give the offense a much-needed jolt going into next season.

Offensive improvement will be key in the upcoming season, but the Panthers must also improve their defensive intensity against top teams.

They will also need a repeat performance from junior goalkeeper Dan Lynd, who was tremendous between the posts last season, ranking in the top 30 in Division I with 87 saves. 

Although there is plenty of optimism surrounding the Panthers internally, their schedule won’t do them any favors. Pitt has six matches against teams that advanced to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, including five that finished the season ranked in the top 25 and defending national champion Notre Dame.

To prepare for the daunting fall season, Pitt will begin its campaign with three exhibition games in August against St. Francis (Pa.), California University of Pennsylvania and Duquesne.

“With new players we need some questions answered,” Luxbacher said. “We will use [these games] to prepare and determine our team for our opener.”

Having experienced a season in the ACC should help the Panthers strategically but, according to Luxbacher, the team’s success largely depends on those with the ball at their feet.

“At the end of the day, players still must perform at a high level, regardless of the tactics involved,” he said.

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Welcome Back: Offense, or lack thereof, will dictate outcome of season