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Pitt men’s soccer winless in six straight following loss to Harvard

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Pitt's men's soccer team fell in a 2-0 shutout against Notre Dame Friday night.  Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

Pitt's men's soccer team fell in a 2-0 shutout against Notre Dame Friday night. Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

Pitt's men's soccer team fell in a 2-0 shutout against Notre Dame Friday night. Andrew Shin | Staff Photographer

By Joe Rokicki / Staff Writer

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Losses are piling up for the Pitt men’s soccer team.

The Panthers (5-7-3, 0-5-1 ACC) dropped their third consecutive match late Tuesday afternoon, losing to the Harvard Crimson (6-4-2, 3-0 Ivy League) 3-2 in regulation. The loss also marked the Panthers second consecutive home loss to a non-conference opponent. While Pitt established some success in the offensive third, its defensive backfield struggled.

“I thought through 90 minutes [Harvard] were physically stronger on the ball, they won most of the tackles and that adds up to a goal difference” Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher said. “When you score two goals, you should not lose a game.”

The Crimson struck first in the 23rd minute when junior midfielder Daniel Smith headed a corner from sophomore midfielder Christian Sady past Pitt goalkeeper and team captain Dan Lynd. The Crimson outgained the Panthers in corner kicks 9-5 on the afternoon, a result of their bruising style.

“Physically, we didn’t match up with them,” Luxbacher added. “They’re very direct, as soon as they get the ball they play it behind you and fight for everything.”

The Panthers responded quickly.

Freshman midfielder Alec Anselmo dribbled through two Crimson defenders and rifled a shot from inside the Harvard box. Senior Crimson goalkeeper Evan Mendez gave chase, and the Panthers earned their second corner of the afternoon.

Senior midfielder Patrick Dixon lobbed the kick into the Harvard box, where freshman defenseman Matt Bragg headed his second goal of the season past Mendez to tie the score 1-1 in the 25th minute.

The Panthers struck again five minutes later when Dixon launched an upper 90 strike past Mendez from 12 yards out in the 30th minute for his third goal of the season, giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead.

“It’s always nice to get on the score sheet, it doesn’t amount to much if we don’t win the game though, so I’m still pretty disappointed,” Dixon said.

Dixon’s goal was also a result of a direct offensive approach, driving balls through the midfield rather than working through the wings.

“We’re a team that likes to play the ball on the ground and like to have combinations through the midfielder, through the striker. I thought we did that pretty well, but it just wasn’t good enough today,” Dixon said.

However, the Crimson were able to rally and capitalize against the Panthers’ depleted defensive backfield.

A handball led to a Harvard penalty shot in the 39th minute for senior Crimson forward Tim Schmoll after the Panthers’ illegal attempt to clear the box. Lynd guessed right, but Schmoll shot left and Harvard entered halftime with a 3-2 lead it would not surrender.

“The cohesion has not been good [defensively]. Our two starting centerbacks Kyle [Brathwaite] and Stephane [Pierre] — when they were together through the [nonconference play] we didn’t give up a goal,” Luxbacher said. “Since then, we’ve never had the same two centerbacks. They’re a tandem, it’s tough when you throw a different guy in every game.”

Braithwaite is out for the season. Pitt will monitor Pierre’s condition throughout the week, but he is an uncertainty for Saturday’s match against Duke due to a nagging ankle injury.

“Stephane couldn’t play today. We’ll see where he is on Friday, we’re better with him on the field,” Luxbacher said.

Sophomore midfielder Romeo Charron suffered a left leg injury in the 12th minute Tuesday night and left the game. He will most likely not play Saturday, and could miss the rest of the season.

“They said they thought it was a ligament [injury],” Luxbacher said. “He’ll undergo further testing.”

The Panthers have suffered serious injuries to key players this season. It’s been an epidemic of sorts — first Pierre, then Brathwaite, then sophomore midfielder Jack Dickens and now Charron.

It’s frustrating for any team, especially a team struggling to earn its first ACC victory in program history. With each small stride forward the Panthers have made, there has been an injury — another name crossed off on the depth chart and another serious role to fill.

“We’ll just work for three days and figure out what our backline is going to be. It has to be a coordinated unit. We’ll figure out the best lineup to give us a chance to earn a victory on Saturday,” Luxbacher said.

Dixon also lamented the adverse effects injuries have had on the team, but says the team can’t use that as an excuse.

“It’s a hard season, you’re playing two or three games a week,” Dixon said. “It’s difficult, but it just comes down to unlucky moments with injuries, and we just have to prepare and try to get everybody as well as we can.”

Saturday’s match versus Duke (6-6-2, 1-4-1 ACC) is the final chance for the Panthers to earn their first-ever ACC victory at home, before heading to South Bend, Indiana, for the regular season finale against Notre Dame (8-2-4, 3-1-2 ACC) on Halloween.

For junior midfielder Sam Marks, Saturday is a must win.

“That’s our biggest game of the year. If we win, we’re in the ACC tournament for my first time, and they’re a beatable team,” he said. “We’ve played them well the past two years. I think everyone believes we can beat them.”

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Pitt men’s soccer winless in six straight following loss to Harvard