Pitt men’s soccer team picked up its third win of the season, by grinding out a 2-1 win against cross-town rivals Robert Morris in a non-conference battle at Ambrose Urbanic Field on Tuesday night.
While the Panthers started off strong, with an early Colin Brezniak goal, Robert Morris found a way to hang around the match long enough to get a quality equalizing header by Rafael Bruzual in the 54th minute, before the Panthers quickly responded with a Joshua Gaspari game-winner only a minute later.
Pitt’s Head Coach Jay Vidovich, who built at National title contending program in his 20 years at Wake Forest, wasn’t necessarily pleased with many aspects of his team’s performance, but was glad to come away with victory.
“We started out strong, but we really had to work our way back,” Vidovich said. “We got great scoring chances, a goal in the early going, but we probably lost that lesson, and discipline of play after that.”
Here’s the full post-game interview I had with Vidovich.
As Vidovich pointed out, it was a bright start for the Panthers.
In the 4th minute, a long diagonal ball into the box forced Robert Morris keeper Winter Fondi off his line, having to slide to secure the ball, but both Colin Brezniak and Edward Kizza also converged on the ball to keep it alive.
As the ball got away from Fondi, Brezniak quickly took a touch on the ball, then turned in front of goal, and fired a quick shot into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for Pitt, the linesman put his flag up, as in the mad scramble for the ball, they were off side.
The Panthers came forward again moments later, in the 8th minute, as Kizza delivered a ball in from the left side that pinged around the box before falling toward the center of the six yard mark, again, right in front of Brezniak, who calmly drilled a shot into the back of the net to give Pitt an early 1-0 lead.
“We weren’t sure how they were playing yet, and we were trying to acclamate to the game,” Fondi said. “And obviously they got one in, it was like a ‘ping-pong’, and it went in. It was unlucky.”
Despite having an early lead, and applying enough pressure for six shots in the first half, the Colonials managed to disrupt Pitt’s possession in its outstretched, possession-based 4-4-2.
“We did what we could, defensively. They had a lot of chances,” Fondi said. “They’re well coached, and a very good team. Lot of good players. Tough team to play.”
In Vidovich’s words, Pitt’s attack and midfield, which was missing a regular starter, freshman center midfielder Marcony Pimentel, “wasn’t good enough.”
In addition, Vidovich wasn’t pleased with his squad’s fitness, despite having played only 48 hours earlier in a 2-0 conference loss at Wake Forest.
“Unforced errors, turnovers by our guys, complicated the game for us,” Vidovich added. “I was disappointed with that.”
The Colonials most dangerous player in the first half was its leading scorer Bayley Winkel, who made a few dangerous runs into the final third, and drew fouls on three separate occasions.
At the outset of the second half, Robert Morris continued to keep coming at the Panthers, creating three corner kick chances.
In the 57th minute, despite being pinned into the corner, Robert Morris midfielder Roald Ravlum made a nifty move to get enough space to deliver a perfectly placed lining cross that connected with Rafael Bruzual, who’s header beat Pitt goalkeeper Mikal Outcalt for the equalizer.
“It was tough for us to break them down, but it was our game plan was to hope for counters,” Fondi acknowledged. “And it worked out for us once, and we had a couple other chances.”
Pitt only needed a minute to respond.
After a nice build-up on the right side, midfielder Joshua Gaspari received a pass from senior Raj Kahlon, and found himself with plenty of room to shoot from 14 yards out in the center of the box. The junior from Australia, went down under to beat Fondi with a low shot that enabled the Panthers to regain the lead.
Brezniak and later his replacement Kevin Angulo had a few more golden chances to beat Fondi, but the senior from Quaker Valley was solid in goal all night, making six saves.
Robert Morris remains without win in seven games, but Fondi believes the experience of playing Pitt close is something that they can build on for the upcoming Northeast Conference (NEC) league schedule.
“No doubt, we can build off of this tonight,” Fondi said. “We’re getting better every day, and we’re going to do pretty well in the NEC.”
The Colonials still have few non-conference games coming up, including a tilt on Sunday, October 1 against Duquense, prior to NEC play against Central Connecticut State on October 6.
With its win on Tuesday, Vidovich’s Panthers are now 3-4 for the season, but remain without a win in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play since the entering the NCAA’s toughest soccer conference in 2014. Thus far this season, Pitt has fallen to fourth-ranked North Carolina in a match which they held 65 percent possession and had more shots, and lost at Vidovich’s former school, Wake Forest, 2-0 on Saturday.
Still, despite some of the bumpy moments against Robert Morris, Vidovich believes his program is on track.
“I feel overall, we’ve made so much improvement,” Vidovich said, reflecting on the overall status of his program as they strive to compete in the ACC. “It’s like night and day. Where we are right now, is we’re better, but we have to start to learn how to win games. And get into that mentality, we have to steal games, and get ties.”
Pitt returns to ACC action on Sunday, traveling to South Carolina to take on another nationally ranked conference opponent, No. 8 Clemson.