Since Pitt’s jump to the ACC in 2013, success has been measured in small victories: the occasional in-conference upset win; producing first-ever MLS draftee Javi Perez; winning their first ACC playoff match last season. In 2019, Jay Vidovich’s Panthers should expect that steady forward progress to continue, and perhaps, with a little luck, his team might produce the first NCAA tournament appearance for Pitt soccer since 1965.
Key Returning Players
Pitt will bring back six players that earned significant minutes in 2018.
Defenders Sito Sena and Nyk Sessock will return to play on the backline. Midfielder Jackson Walti, who was third in minutes played in 2018, returns for his Sophomore year. Forward Alexander Dexter will hope he can add to his team-leading 5 assists last year. And goalkeeper Johan Penaranda will likely get the nod to start between the posts for the Panthers.
Of course, the most important returning player for Pitt is pacey attacker Edward Kizza. The Junior from Kampala, Uganda had 15 goals in 2018; best in the ACC and fifth amongst all men’s players in NCAA Division I last year. Without a doubt, Kizza is the one to watch this season, and Pitt’s success will be inextricably bound to Kizza’s prolific goalscoring for the coming season.
The Panthers are bringing in 12 new players this season, with a mix of freshmen and transfers. New to the 2019 roster are Arie Ammann, Matt Bailey, Lucas Cyriacus, Tim Ekpone, Josh Hesson, Braden Kline, Luke Mort, Valentin Noel, Arturo Ordonez, Veljko Petkovic, Sebastian Serpa and Bryce Washington. Pitt’s transfers come via Penn State [Ammann], UMBC [Bailey], Providence [Kline] and Rutgers [Washington].
Notable to locals will be Luke Mort, a Riverhounds Development Academy product from Greensburg, PA. Mort, a forward, was nominated for National Gatorade Player of the Year in his senior season and finished his high school career with 133 goals and 61 assists. His high school team, Greensburg Central Catholic, was the WPIAL Runner-Up and PIAA State Semifinalist in senior season.
Pitt graduated their most experienced centerbacks from the 2018 season: Robby Dambrott, Peter Prescott, and Tom Moxham. Hopefully some of the new defenders, like Tim Ekpone, Bryce Washington, or Arturo Ordonez, will step into their place to hold things together. Returning defenders Sena and Sessock, plus ACC All-freshman team selection Chandler Vaughn will need all the help they can get.
Pitt’s biggest loss is certainly Javi Perez, their central midfield metronome last year. The graduate went off to Major League Soccer’s LAFC and showed great promise off the bench for what has become the best team in MLS this season before he tore his ACL. It is hard to tell who, if anybody, can fill Javi’s big shoes in successfully controlling the tempo and linking up the lines for the Panthers.
8-10-1 overall; 2-6-0 in the ACC; Goals For 27 ; Goals Against 25
Best Win: 2-0 victory over #7 ranked University of Virginia away.
Worst Defeat: 4-3 loss to unranked Cleveland State at home.
Must-Watch Games in 2019
Friday, August 30 away match against #2 Indiana University
Friday, September 13 home match against #4 Wake Forest
Monday, September 16 home match against #3 Akron
Friday, October 4 home match against #6 North Carolina
Pitt’s non-conference schedule is a mix of cupcakes competitors like Liberty and Howard juxtaposed against perennial NCAA powerhouses like IU, Akron, and Denver. They should be able to emerge with a 3-3 record from that mix of competition, and the tactic of starting the year with some rough opposition should steel the boys for their always-strong ACC schedule. You can also expect forward progress in the brutal ACC as I predict the Panthers finish with a 3-5 record in-conference.
If the Panthers can do all that, knock off three top 10 opponents, and make some progress in the ACC tournament, they may get their first bid to the College Cup since John F. Kennedy was in the White House. That would be a resounding success for a program that has yet to really establish itself as ‘top-tier’ in the NCAA, but would very much like to in the near future.