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Men’s soccer prepares for Demon Deacons

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Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

By Joe Rokicki / Staff Writer

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The last time Wake Forest University played the Pitt men’s soccer team in Pittsburgh, the Panthers were new members of the ACC conference. The Demon Deacons easily disposed of the Panthers in September 2013, winning 2-0, and Pitt’s ACC record worsened to 0-3.

Fifteen conference games and two years later, Pitt will begin 2015 ACC conference play this weekend, again meeting Wake Forest. And despite an impressive 3-0-1 start to their season, the Panthers still have as many conference wins as they did in their previous meeting: zero. A victory Saturday night would be a benchmark victory for head coach Joe Luxbacher and his team.

But they’ll have to do it without junior defenseman Stephane Pierre, who will miss an extended period of time because of an ankle injury he suffered in Sunday afternoon’s victory against Saint Peter’s University.

These Panthers are playing at a much higher level than one year ago — they’ve registered 48 shots and six goals through four games thus far, which compares favorably to last year’s mark of 32 shots and four goals through their first four games.

What’s more, the team hasn’t allowed a single goal in four games. Senior captain goalkeeper Dan Lynd has recorded his ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th career shutouts to start the 2015 season, and now ranks fifth all-time in shutouts in school history.

Lynd credits his teammates and back four defenders for playing strong in front of him, but he has improved as well. He has implemented an aggressive approach to his playing style, which may stretch across the entire team.

“Going into the season, one of the things I wanted to work on was owning my box a little bit,” Lynd said.

“Dan Lynd has all the elements,” Luxbacher said. “He’s calm, he never looks flustered and that carries over to the rest of the team too.”

The Panthers have fought through some frustrating, grueling matches in the opening weeks of the season: a double overtime draw at Lafayette College, a boisterous match against Eastern Illinois University in which senior Patrick Dixon received a red card and Sunday’s match, which cited the Panthers with 13 fouls.

“We have to play better soccer, but in terms of passion and commitment, it was great. It’s a physical game,” Luxbacher said.

No. 16 Wake Forest is currently 4-0 after defeating No. 19 Florida Gulf Coast University 1-0 on Saturday and beating the University of North Carolina at Asheville 5-0 Tuesday night.

The Demon Deacons have scored five goals on 41 shot attempts this season. Senior forward Michael Gamble leads the Deacons with two goals thus far.

The Panthers sport an advantage over the Demon Deacons in corner kicks. Wake Forest has attempted 19 — Pitt has 28, that advantage seemingly a product of its midfielders driving balls deep and creating chances up close.

“I think everything is positive right now, and we’re more dangerous up top than we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Lynd said in reference to the production from freshmen forwards Tobias Marshall-Heyman and Matt Nozedar, who both scored this weekend against Eastern Illinois and St. Peter’s, respectively.

Wake Forest junior goalkeeper Alec Farrell has only recorded three total saves on the year, compared to Lynd’s 11 — but he has allowed two goals on five shots on goal, compared to Lynd’s zero on those 11 shots. Wake Forest’s defense is a tough matchup for a potent, young Panther attack — the Demon Deacons have only allowed 17 shots on the season. The Panthers have allowed 24.

For Luxbacher, non-conference play has been about establishing a rotation within his team — figuring out who best fits where, and when. It’s a modest approach to an impressive stretch of character-building soccer. It has been a turbulent four games, which have seen offensive drought, ejection and injury. Saturday’s match versus Wake Forest will be a palpable test for the Panthers’ depth and grit. 

“It hasn’t been as pretty as you’d like, but you grind it out. We have to play better soccer,” Luxbacher said. “We’ve shown glimpses, but we’re not consistent. We’ve ground out a couple wins that could have gone either way.”

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Men’s soccer prepares for Demon Deacons