Pitt closed out a tough season, and a tough day in Pittsburgh, with a tough loss, as the Panthers fell 1-0 to Notre Dame at Ambrose Urbanic Field Saturday night.
After controlling possession in the first half, Pitt wilted a bit in the second and could neither find a way through the Irish defense, nor could they stop a more assertive and precise Notre Dame attack. After holding onto a 0-0 draw throughout the night, the Panthers would ultimately concede with only five minutes remaining in regulation to a game-winner for Notre Dame Senior Thomas Ueland.
Pitt midfielder and captain Javi Perez summed up the game when he said, “This was the best game we played. We overplayed the opponent. We out-possessed the opponent. But… it’s just football. Sometimes it’s very unfair. Today was one of those days where I think we deserved a lot more than we had.”
At the game’s outset, Pitt sent a lot of their balls into center forward Edward Kizza, but he sent a clutch of errant passes well wide of the mark in early goings of the match. As the first half unfolded, Pitt’s best chance came late when Sophomore Edward Kizza squared up a ball from 12 yards out, but pulled it wide right.
Pitt’s first half was certainly more bright and positive, as they strung together passes and reached the final third in possession several times, resulting in 5 shots on goal, but unfortunately none on frame. Perez said “I think we had control of the game. We were the ones that were trying to create, we were trying to go forward, trying to score, and they were defending and trying to play on the counterattack.”
A shot in the second-half at 79th minute by Notre Dame’s Blake Townes challenged Pitt goalkeeper Johan Penaranda, but he parried it well to keep the score nil-nil.
Pitt had a few quality chances after the 70th minute as they swung the ball around the box, poking and prodding for openings. But forwards Alexander Dexter, Rodrigo Almeida, and Edward Kizza’s shots and passes were deflected or blocked outright on no fewer than four occasions.
The Panthers had the bulk of corners in the match – 8 opportunities in all, with 4 in each half – but was turned away time and again. Notre Dame held a definite advantage when it came to set pieces due to their tremendous size. The Irish’s hulking centerbacks, 6’3″ 195 lb. Patrick Berneski and 6’3″, 187 lb. Spencer Farina headed out balls and manhandled attackers all night. And what they could not reach, beanpole goalkeeper Duncan Turnbull, a 6’7″ Junior from Geneva Illinois, handled with relative ease.
Thomas Ueland scored the game-winning in the 85th goal minute on a cross right inside the box and straight in front of Pitt goalkeeper Johan Penaranda. The ball was smacked left of the keeper and into the side netting to give the Fighting Irish the decisive lead.
Although Pitt’s 7-11 record is certainly underwhelming, the team feels they can turn a new leaf as the ACC tournament begins. The first round games will take place this Wednesday, October 31. Pitt’s loss tonight means that they will be the #11 seed, playing away to #6 University of Virginia. UVA are 9-2-2 and ranked #6 in the NCAA.
Perez explained “We feel like the ACC tournament is a new chapter. This is a new mentality, and a fresh mind. We’re gonna walk in with a winning mentality and trying to win every game. But we have to focus on the first round first.”
Coach Vidovich concurred and said “We’ve had a couple letdowns this season. But we’ve also gone toe-to-toe with some very good teams. And we haven’t been able to take that next step against teams. We’ve gotten in a nice fight with some people and punched them in the face, but eventually we got knocked out. I think that we’re battle ready, and that’s what you have to be going into the ACC tournament.”
The Pitt players and coaches also felt the heaviness of the day, as events well off the soccer field brought reality into stark relief. Perez explained that they heard about the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill just as training was letting out this morning. Coach Jay Vidovich expressed that the team felt “absolute shock” as they heard coming out of practice. Vidovich added, “Some of the boys took it really hard. It’s a shocking thing to see in Pittsburgh.”