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Postgame Reaction: Head Coach Jay Vidovich after Pitt advances to Sweet 16 for first time ever

After a slow start, the second-seeded Pitt Panthers rolled to a convincing 6-1 victory against Monmouth in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament’s second round on Sunday evening at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C.

It’s the first time in men’s soccer program history Pitt has advanced to the Sweet 16, where they’ll now face Central Florida, who defeated James Madison, 2-1 earlier on Sunday.  That match is now set for 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 6.

“It was a good win,” Pitt’s Head Coach Jay Vidovich said via Zoom call after Sunday’s match. “They’re all good wins at this level.” 

The Panthers took command of the match midway through the first half, when Valentin Noel converted his first shot opportunity after receiving a perfectly placed ball over the top from Raphael Crivello in the 25th minute.

“That’s something that Raf (Crivello) will do if he sees the opportunity is there,” Vidovich explained. “Val made a perfectly timed run. And Raf, that took great vision to see they were playing high line, and great recognition by Noel to make that run.” 

From that point forward, Pitt took command of the match, although, Monmouth did start on the front foot, doing its best to make Pitt feel uncomfortable, creating a few dangerous crosses, applying some pressure that resulted in three shot attempts, with two on frame in the first half.

“There were definitely nerves there. Guys were nervous, there was some tension early in the match, but they worked through it,” Vidovich added. “We’re still very young, as a program in experiencing these moments. There’s pressure. Expectations.  We haven’t played in two weeks, we were on a different type of surface. But as it went along, we played our way into the game.”

Pitt withstood Monmouth’s best efforts early on, then after they scored the game’s opening goal, they doubled its lead when they created a corner kick opportunity in the 39th minute.

Veljko Petovic’s ball into the box connected with senior defender Bryce Washington, who found room just inside the far post to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead they would take into the half.

The Panthers continued its dominance early in the second half, when they converted after another corner kick opportunity in the 51st minute.  This time, after Petkovic’s ball into the box took a bounce, Alexander Dexter was the first to the ball to barely knock it forward, just inside the near side post to give Pitt a 3-0 lead. 

Vidovich was pleased to see his team execute so well on set piece opportunities.

“Set pieces are a big aspect of the game for us,” Vidovich stated. “We found that we’ve been able to manufacture goals with balls in service. That’s big. We work on those things a lot and glad it’s paid off.”   

Six minutes later, after a nice build-up that included new sub Matt Bailey and Petkovic playing a 1-2, then Bailey played the ball wide to Bertin Jacquesson — who sent a dangerous cross which forces harried attempted clearance by Monmouth’s George Akampeke, but the effort went awry, resulting in an own goal.  

Pitt added another tally in the 71st minute when ACC’s Defender of the year Jasper Loeffelsend  made a run into the box, then laid off a nice short pass to Rodrigo Alameida, who converted his point blank opportunity from six yards.

Monmouth got on the scoreboard when Sito Sena was called for a foul in the box, resulting in Julian Gomez converting the penalty kick — driving a shot past diving Nico Campuzano.

Pitt capped its dominant performance after Sena was fouled, giving way to Rodrigo to convert the penalty kick from the spot in the 88th minute.

With bench players contributing to a big win early in the tournament, VIdovich is feeling positive about his rotation beyond the starting eleven.  The Panthers used one sub in the first half, but then used seven additional players in the second half.

“We’re not bringing guys in to give a blow” Vidovich said. “It’s for tactical purposes. The more pressure on the ball, the better. Luke (Mort) and (Luke) Pep came in to help with that. Everyone else that got in, they’ve done well. Pushed the guys in training, have been very competitive.”  

The Panthers outshot the Hawks (16-7, 9-4 on target), and from the 20th minute on, owned possession advantage.

With the win, Pitt will now advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament, where they’ll face Central Florida on Thursday (time TBA).

Reflecting on the program’s first-ever Sweet 16 appearance, Vidovich didn’t exactly set out specific expectations, but has always had his eyes on the big prize.

“We’ve been hoping to get here, get to this point where we’re winning NCAA tournament games. Getting to the Sweet 16,” Vidovich explained. “I don’t think we had any specific expectations.  I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to say we need to reach the Sweet 16 or the College Cup or anything like that. I just wanted to look at where we were, and see how we could become a championship caliber program.”   

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).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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