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NCAA First Round Preview: Pitt vs Lehigh

Credit: Lehigh University website

Pitt Men’s Soccer has achieved so much in 2019 already: the team’s first overall winning record (9-7-2) since 2000, the team’s first-ever winning record (4-3-1) in the ACC; a victory over the #1 team in the nation Virginia in Charlottesville; a win in the ACC Tournament for just the second time ever; and now, the team’s first invitation to the NCAA College Cup since 1965.

It’s all gravy from here on out.

Clearly, though, there will be no resting on laurels. Jay Vidovich and his boys are going to go into each match looking to win and advance to the next stage.

Read Pitt is in! Panthers earn at-large bid to NCAA tournament, will host Lehigh in 1st Round on Thursday

The first test is Lehigh University.

Lehigh, a private college located on the other side of Pennsylvania in picturesque Bethlehem, had a heck of a 2019 season. The Mountain Hawks finished with a stellar 13-4-3 record that included a 6-0-3 record in the Patriot League. Lehigh has also already picked up a trophy this year by winning the Patriot League Tournament which guaranteed them a spot to the College Cup.

Lehigh is a likely going to be an even match for the Panthers. Lehigh won all of its matches against Patriot League opponents, most of whom are not particularly strong teams. However, Lehigh has gone toe-to-toe with some solid teams this season, including #22 ranked Navy and #12 Georgetown – beating the Midshipmen but losing to the Hoyas. Their other three losses on the year were to SUNY-Binghamton, Wisconsin, and Princeton.

Tactical Analysis and Personnel

I was all amped up to watch some match footage of Lehigh and give my impressions in this preview. So I went over to ESPN+ and pulled up all their games… and discovered that ESPN deletes any matches of certain teams after two to three weeks. The last time Lehigh played on TV was against the Ivy League in October… so, no footage. Sorry, rabbi.

Here’s how Lehigh lined up in their last match:

You can see that they lined up purportedly in a 3-4-3, which is typically thought of as aggressive and offense-minded formation. However, Lehigh is not a hyper-charged scoring machine like Pitt’s last opponent, Clemson.

Read Pitt falls to top-ranked Clemson, 1-0, in ACC semifinal

The Mountain Hawks scored a modest 25 goals while conceding a relatively stingy 16. That could mean they play the 3-4-3 to look more like 5-3-1, a fairly common setup where the two wide midfielders act as wingbacks and defend in a back-five system. This may be what we see on Thursday against Pitt, especially since on the road and against a well-regarded opponent from a powerful conference, Lehigh will choose to sit back, button-up, defend, and strike on the counter-attack. It’s anyone’s guess.

Center forward Josh Luchini lead Lehigh in goals this year with 11. The sophomore from North Allegheny High School helped power his school to back-to-back WPIAL 4A Championships in 2016 and 2017. He was also a high school All-American as well as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year in 2017, so expect a mini-cheering section for the local boy up at Ambrose Urbanic. The key distributor on this team is Trevor Koski. Koski, a junior from nearby Bethlehem, has provided 5 assists in addition to 5 goals. He is backed by team captain and midfielder Stevo Bednarsky, who started all but one game this season for Lehigh. Junior defender Tyler Dressman started every game for Lehigh this past season. Goalkeeper Will Smith had an excellent season, turning in 9 clean sheets on the season and starting 19 of the Mountain Hawks 20 games. By sheer chance, it turns that he was west of Philadelphia, born and raised; or in the suburb of Devon, PA to be precise. Whether he can deny the Panthers the ability to get ‘jiggy with it’ in terms of goal scoring is a good question.

The team is coached by Dean Koski. Koski, the all-time winningest coach in school history, is in his 20th season as head coach of the Lehigh’s men’s soccer program. If the name jumps out at you, it’s because you’ve already read it. Dean is the father of midfielder Trevor Koski.

Although simply qualifying for the NCAA tournament is a big accomplishment for Pitt, a win over Lehigh would be truly historic, because while Pitt has twice qualified for the College Cup in 1962 and 1965, they departed both of those tournaments without a win.

History has already been made. It’s all gravy from here. But with Thanksgiving coming up, the Panthers are probably in the mood for something to serve alongside the turkey and stuffing next week.

Match Information

Location: Ambrose Urbanic Field, Pittsburgh, PA

Date and Time: Thursday, November 21, 7:00 PM

TV/Stream: ACC Network and ESPN streaming


Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

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