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Stakes raised in conference championships with limited NCAA tournament field

Photo Courtesy Penn State Athletics

With Pitt men’s soccer having an incredible season and on the brink of earning a very high seed in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament, this seemed like an opportune time to bring many Pittsburgh soccer fans not familiar with the NCAA tournament, up to speed on how it works.

For starters, the usual format has been altered for the upcoming Spring 2021 edition to include a total of 36 teams (down from the usual 48).

This means that after the automatic bids go out from 22 conference champions (there would normally be 24 conferences, but the Big West and Ivy League each did not have seasons in 2020-21), that leaves a grand total of 14 remaining at-large bids.

Pitt’s men’s team, ranked first in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, will be playing Clemson on Saturday night for the ACC Championship (7 p.m. kickoff) which will determine the league’s automatic qualifier.  (We’ll provide the preview to that match on Saturday morning.)

This will be a rematch from the Fall, when they made it to the ACC Tournament Final, when Pitt lost to Clemson, 2-1.

It’s not like we owe them, or there’s payback,” Pitt’s Head Coach Jay Vidovich explained about the upcoming rematch with Clemson.

“The last time, we were happy to get into that match with Clemson (in the ACC Championship).  We didn’t have two-and-a-half weeks to train for it either. We just beat Duke and Notre Dame. And we didn’t have anything in us.  This time we’ll have a week or more to prepare. I look forward to that opportunity of us being fresher and them being fresher, and lets see what happens.”

Either way, the loser of that match should not have any issues with making the NCAA tournament field as both teams are currently ranked in the top four of the USC poll (Pitt No. 1, Clemson No. 4).

Finishing Strong: Pitt men’s soccer on precipice of NCAA tournament top seed

What is at stake could a number one overall seed in the tournament, potentially paving the way for the most comfortable path to the College Cup (Final Four).

After the traditional Fall tournament was cancelled, it was rescheduled to now take place from April 30 through May 17 and will be played in its entirety in Cary, North Carolina and surrounding area, due to COVID-19 protocols and concerns.  This eliminates the possibility of Pitt hosting any NCAA tournament games at home at Ambrose Urbanic Field this year. In 2019, Pitt hosted its first-ever NCAA tournament match, defeating Lehigh, 2-0.

Off-campus sites for tournament matches include:

  • Bryan Park (Greensboro, North Carolina).
  •  J. Burt Gillette Athletic Complex (Wilson, North Carolina).
  • Sportsplex (Matthews, North Carolina).
  • WakeMed Soccer Park (Cary, North Carolina).

The committees intend to provide some opportunity for family and friends to attend the championships. They will follow the NCAA Medical Advisory Group guidelines, and the maximum allowable capacity will be 25 percent.

While there are some leagues that have opted to award its regular season champions with the NCAA tournament automatic bid, there are many abbreviated conference tournaments (most had the top four teams qualify with semifinal and final rounds to be completed by Saturday. The Big Ten and Atlantic Sun Conferences did include eight teams each, holding quarterfinal rounds).

You can find the latest on all of the Division I College Tournament and automatic qualifying information for the NCAA Tournament here on

One of those conference tournaments we’re watching closely will be the Big Ten, where No. 14 Penn State has made it to the championship game, where they’ll travel to Bloomington, IN, to take on the conference’s top seed, Indiana.

Already in the field includes Loyola Marymount, the WCC champs, and Coastal Carolina, the Sun Belt fall champion.

By Saturday night, all of the automatic bids will be set.  The NCAA tournament selection committee will then look at coming up with the additional 14 teams. The NCAA selection show will take place on Monday, April, 19.

Pitt, and most teams, won’t enter the tournament until the second round, starting May 2.  With a 36-team bracket, there will be one first round 8-vs-9 seed ‘play-in’ game in each of the four regions to be played on April 29.

Round Revised Dates
First round Thurs April 29
Second round Sunday, May 2
Third round Thurs, May 6
Quarterfinals Monday, May 10
College Cup Semifinals Friday, May 13
College Cup Final Monday, May 17

Pittsburgh Soccer Now plans to have on-site coverage of every tournament game along with post-match reaction as long as Pitt remains in contention for the National Championship.

Be sure to follow our coverage of the ACC Championship game on Saturday, including a game preview, live gameday blog and post-game reaction and the NCAA tournament selection announcements on Monday.

Pitt Men’s Soccer Coverage Highlights (Spring 2021) 

Pitt men’s soccer nearly sweep ACC seasonal honors

Pitt’s Alexander Dexter named National Player of the Week

Pitt dominates Virginia, 5-0; clinches ACC Coastal Division title

National Championship Aspirations: Pitt seniors excited to take care of ‘unfinished business’ this spring


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).

Glory on the Grass

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Riverhounds MF Kenardo Forbes

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