On the heels of a statement victory to open conference play, No. 15 Pitt Men’s Soccer (4-2, 1-0 ACC) traveled to Happy Valley for a non-conference contest against rival Penn State (3-2-1, 0-0 Big 10) on Monday night and defeated the Nittany Lions 1-0.
After struggling offensively during last week’s 1-2 stretch, the Panther attack finally found its stride in their previous match against No. 4 North Carolina. Pitt defeated the Tar Heels by a score of 4-0 on Friday night. Coming into the match against Penn State, the Panthers hoped to continue their success possessing the ball in enemy territory and getting clean looks at goal through passing.
From the opening kick, Pitt had far more energy. The Panthers were eager to attack the Penn State backline, and in just the sixth minute, they turned their first shot attempt into an early lead. Graduate student fullback Jasper Loeffelsend played a grounded cross to the feet of senior midfielder Rodrigo Almeida, who tapped in the finish to put Pitt ahead 1-0.
Almeida’s goal was his fifth of the young season, which leads the team. Almeida has mostly been a quality contributor off the bench for the Panthers throughout his career — now emerging as one of their premier offensive players in his senior season.
For the remainder of the first half, Penn State did not have an answer for Pitt’s offense. The Panthers convincingly controlled possession and pace of play for the entire half, frequently challenging the defense of the Nittany Lions and generating quality chances.
Even when graduate student forward Alexander Dexter had to exit in the 28th minute due to issues with cramps, sophomore forward Bertin Jacquesson rose to the occasion and kept up the furious offensive play. Jacquesson immediately sparked chances from his position on the left wing, and generated two shots on goal in the final 17 minutes of the half.
In the first half, Pitt generated eight shot attempts to Penn State’s two, and four corner kicks to Penn State’s zero. But despite their success in the attacking half, the Panthers did not manage to score another goal. Even in an extremely lopsided half, soccer’s low-scoring nature meant that Pitt took just a 1-0 lead into the halftime break, along with all the momentum.
While the Nittany Lions looked a bit sharper to start the second half, the story stayed the same. The Panthers continued to possess the ball well and create quality chances on a consistent basis. Penn State did manage to string some passes together and make a push into Panther territory at times, but failed to generate any truly threatening chances.
Despite the one-goal margin of victory, Pitt convincingly defeated the Nittany Lions in a shutout performance. Penn State got a couple of shots on goal in the second half, but the Panther backline held strong for the entire match. Pitt finished with 16 shots on goal and eight corner kicks, but only managed the single, decisive score.
Almeida finished with a match-leading five shot attempts — playing a central role in catalyzing chances for the Panther offense. His emergence, along with the high level of play from the core group of attackers that led Pitt to the College Cup last season, provided Pitt with high-level depth in the midfield and on the front line.
Pitt’s identity is clearly on the offensive end, but its defense is beginning to come into form lately. Graduate student goalkeeper Nico Campuzano has played confidently all season, but the Panther backline helped him achieve two consecutive shutouts against a pair of quality opponents. Graduate student Sito Sena played his way into the starting eleven — growing into a pivotal member of the center of Pitt’s defense.
After suffering losses in both of their road games to this point, Pitt picked up its first victory away from Ambrose Urbanic Field this season and improved to 4-2 on the year. This road experience will prove useful moving forward, as the Panthers now look ahead to a conference match on Saturday when they face No. 25 Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The top-25 matchup will be streamed on ACC Network Extra.
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