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Pulisic’s heroics in PK shootout end Pitt’s season in ACC quarterfinal

Photo courtesy - Duke men's soccer Twitter / Duke Athletics

Pitt men’s soccer team played to a scoreless draw with No. 8 Duke Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

It was in the penalty kick shootout where Pitt’s season came to a crashing halt. The Blue Devils won, 4-3, to advance to the semifinals, with Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic making two big saves and switching over to the other side to convert his PK attempt.

The draw marks a close to Pitt’s season, who finishes with an 8-10-1 [2-6 ACC] record. The win sends Duke into the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, putting them at 10-5-2 [5-3 ACC] on the year.

“It’s quite disappointing that the season is over and it’s quite disappointing that we had a few opportunities to be further along than we are right now in terms of results,” said head coach Jay Vidovich. “There was tremendous progress in so many ways, whether it’s tournament experience or performing against that many top-10 and 20 teams in the country. The culture now has to change to winning. We’ve done a lot of good things. Hats off to the seniors and the boys that have come in. They’ve really done a lot of work in the last two years for Pitt, the University and the Athletic Department. Really just soccer in general in our area. Hats off to them and appreciate all that they’ve done for us.

The match was one of the Panthers most exciting of the year, with a back-and-forth ensuing between both teams for the duration of the match. Third-seeded Duke finished the game with an 18-13 advantage in shots, while Pitt took a 10-6 advantage in corners.

“I think Pitt did a great job coming out at the start of the match,” said Vidovich. “We defended very well, pressed on them and caused quite a few turnovers and issues for Duke. I thought we had a couple of good looks. There were two balls cleared off the line, so we had our opportunities. As the half wore on, I think Duke found themselves and started worrying us. They asked some questions of us that we weren’t able to respond to. Entering the second half, I thought we would do a better job keeping the ball and moving them. I think we strayed a little from what we’re best at. We thought the tide had changed when their No. 8 got tossed out of the game, but then we thought we’d take a little bit of an advantage of that. PK shootout, that happens in this game. I was proud of the way Jackson [Walti] and Josh [Gaspari] stepped up and wanted it.”

Pitt and Duke went back-and-forth in the first half of play, with both teams creating quality opportunities. In the 12th minute, the Panthers saw two consecutive headers just miss the frame following a corner kick, with both attempts hitting off the crossbar. Just five minutes later, Pitt had another near-goal saved by Duke’s keeper after sophomore Edward Kizza used some nifty ball handling to penetrate the right side of the box before crossing the ball in to sophomore Alexander Dexter for the shot. The Blue Devils also saw some quality shots on goal come up short in the first half, with freshman keeper Johan Penaranda making three saves in the first 45 minutes. At the break, Duke held a slight 7-5 edge in shots, while Pitt led in corners, 3-2.

The second half of action was more of the same, as both teams played each other very evenly. In the 49th minute, Duke seemed to have a great look on goal, but a diving Penaranda was able to get just enough of the ball to send it wide of the post. Later in the match, the Blue Devils’ Ciaran McKenna was issued his second yellow card of the match, forcing Duke to play a man down from the 62nd minute on. Pitt appeared to have a great scoring opportunity in the 71st minute following a cross from the left side, but freshman Rodrigo Almedia was unable to get a good foot on it and ultimately send the ball wide of the goal. Both teams were able to find shots on goal as time wound down in regulation, but the Panther and Blue Devils’ defenses negated each offensive attack, sending the match into extra time.

Pitt went on the attack early in the first overtime period, with Kizza firing a shot off the crossbar in the 92nd minute. Duke followed with a shot in the 96th minute that went wide right, with the match eventually heading into a second overtime period after neither team could find the back of the net.

The Blue Devils recorded three shots to the Panthers’ two in the second overtime period, but the match remained at nil at the end of extra time, sending the game into a shootout.

The two teams matched each other through the first three penalty kicks, before Duke’s keeper Will Pulisic made a diving save on Pitt’s fourth attempt.

Pulisic then switched sides to take the Blue Devils’ fourth kick, Duke’s keeper yet again came up big, making his second consecutive save to earn the win.

And, yes in case you were wondering, Pulisic is related to US Men’s National Team and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic (they are cousins) and nephew of Riverhounds assistant coach Mark Pulisic.

Kizza and senior Javi Perez led the team with three shots apiece, followed by sophomores Marcony Pimentel and Jose Luis Sena Arbona with two shots each. Almeida, Dexter and redshirt senior Robby Dambrot all added one shot apiece in the match.

Freshman goalkeeper Penaranda finished with six saves in his 110 minutes of action.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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