The Pitt News

After two futile seasons, Pitt men’s soccer still looking for first ACC victory

By Joe Rokicki / Staff Writer

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Every loss takes a toll.

Unfortunately for the Pitt men’s soccer team, it’s seen more than its fair share since moving to the ACC two seasons ago, going home winless in all 19 of its in-conference games since the switch.

In his 32nd season with Pitt, head coach Joe Luxbacher knows that the path to success is hard. Sporting a career 240-270 record with the Panthers, the coach has not seen a winning record at Pitt since a stellar 13-5 campaign in 2000.

“The Big East and the ACC have been the top two conferences in the country over the past 15 years. This is the highest level we’ve played against for sure,” Luxbacher said.

Senior goalkeeper Dan Lynd noted a lack of focus as a key factor to the team’s struggles in the ACC.

“We played extremely well for 70 minutes throughout the game but there’s always those 20 minutes where we lose focus and that’s where the trouble usually happens,” Lynd said. “We’re right there. It’s just a matter of if we can focus in the final third and get a goal.”

Luxbacher also noted a lack of depth hurt the Panthers last year and is something that he feels confident has improved over the offseason.

“You need two quality players for every position, and we didn’t have that depth last year at all,” Luxbacher said. “We’re ahead of where we were last year at this point.”

Still, with Notre Dame and Virginia — who have won the past two NCAA National Championships — on the schedule, as well as a 2014 top-ranked Syracuse team, the odds of improving upon the total 0-15-4 ACC record appears to be a daunting task.

For Luxbacher and his team, work isn’t finished at season’s end, particularly if they want to compete in the ACC.

The coach regularly sends players to summer leagues to participate in the best sort of offseason conditioning — professional competition. Four Panthers played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ Premier Development League team this summer: Lynd, junior midfielder Romeo Charron, senior midfielder Patrick Dixon and junior defender Stephane Pierre. PDL teams compile rosters with premier college players around the country, which makes for an elite competition.

“Our players know they have to play somewhere in the summer. We want guys to mature. They’re playing at a high level of competition,” Luxbacher said.

In his second year with the PDL team, Lynd, a second-year team captain who will start at goalkeeper this year, recognizes the intense style of play within the PDL and its benefits, namely that it will help prepare him for conference competition.

“I think it was good for all of us just to get experience at a higher level because that’s what we’ll be seeing in the ACC,” Lynd said. “Every day is a tryout because you have coaches there from a professional team.”

Charron also noted that playing in the PDL helps players prep for the college season.

“I was just trying to get ready for the season, work on my conditioning and some weaknesses — finding situations where I can take on a defender and break that line and find my striker and set it up,” Charron said.

Goals were few and far between as well for the Panthers last season — the opposition outscored Pitt 27-13 in the fall of 2014. Additionally, their opponents outshot the Panthers 241-203.

“That [lack of offense] is a product of our competition and us not being as cohesive as a unit as we could be,” Lynd said. “If we let in a goal, it’s not just our back four and me, it had to go through everybody.”

Luxbacher noted his deep roster — which consists of ten freshmen — will eradicate the team’s offensive woes in 2015. He expects freshmen Tobias Heyman of Sweden and Matt Nozedar of Kingston upon Hull, England to have an immediate impact.

“We recruited players to improve our attack and score more goals. We’re looking for them to compete right away,” Luxbacher said. ”We have a good class and we have a good core. We’re still young, we only have three seniors.”

That total of seniors is a stark contrast to last year, when the team had six on the roster.

As a center midfielder, Charron expects more from his offensive game.

“I must be able to score and take shots from a distance. We cannot be outscored or outshot, that’s also my role: to avoid shots and give Dan [Lynd] less work,” Charron said, who scored one goal for the Riverhounds in six games this summer.

Selling the Panthers as legitimate conference contenders has been a tough pitch for some, but from Lynd’s perspective, this is a team on the cusp of impacting the nation’s best conference despite a daunting schedule.

“The difference between us and a team like Notre Dame is not that much. They do the little things right every time,” Lynd said. “A team like us will do the little things right 90 percent of the time, but you can’t make mistakes because good teams will make you pay.”

Charron insists the Panthers’ quest for ACC success begins sooner rather than later — the Panthers will play exhibition games versus Saint Francis (PA) on Aug. 19 and California (PA) on Aug. 23after a matchup against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Aug. 18.

“As a team we must have a great pre-season to build confidence in all our key ACC games and we’re in a position today where we can achieve big things and big firsts in our programs,” he said.

The team opens its season Aug. 28 in Easton, Pennsylvania, as it prepares to take on Lafayette.

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After two futile seasons, Pitt men’s soccer still looking for first ACC victory