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NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament: Pitt prepares for high-scoring, red-hot and aggrieved Hofstra

When the Pitt Panthers take the field on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. at Ambrose Urbanic Field) to host the NCAA Men’s Soccer tournament third round match against the Hofstra Pride, they’ll have the challenge of taking on a talented team that is flying high, scoring goals in bunches and playing with a chip on its shoulders.

The Pride (18-1-2 overall) will be making its first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16 riding plenty of confidence and a 17-game unbeaten streak (15-0-2), the longest in program history, and their 18 wins, the most of any team in the Nation, are a program record.

It’s clearly been a record-breaking season for head coach Richard Nuttall and his Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship squad, but they’re determined to go further.

After earning a home first round match and posting a 4-2 win against Lipscomb, the Pride turned a lot of heads with a 8-2 rout of Penn State on Sunday.

“The mentality of the team was our biggest strength today,” said Hofstra head coach Richard Nuttall after his team’s shellacking of the Big Ten Champions.

“On top of that, our grit, determination and talent showed through so [I’m] incredibly proud.”

Nuttall admitted his team is playing with something to prove although, as they’ve reached this point, they also have nothing to lose.

Being ranked highly in the United Soccer Coaches Poll through much of the season plus winning the CAA in convincing fashion apparently wasn’t enough for the NCAA Tournament selection committee to include the Pride as one of the top 16 seeds which would have earned them a first-round bye.

(For the record, Pittsburgh Soccer Now did include Hofstra as one of its top 16 seeds in our projections before the brackets were announced.)

“I love our mentality as a team,” Nuttall said. “We were a bit aggrieved that we had to travel here. We felt we should have been seeded, [but] we weren’t, and we got down to business and we did the job here.”

The Pride’s eight goals are tied for the second most in NCAA Championship history and are the most in a game since 1978, also tied for the second most goals scored by Hofstra all-time and is the most since the 1994 team had a nine-goal and an eighth-goal game.

The Panthers (12-5-1) enter this match having defeated Northern Illinois, 5-2, in the second round,

The MAC Champions were another team who spend very little time sitting back.

The Huskies, also among the highest scoring outfits in the Nation, came to Ambrose Urbanic Field to face Pitt on a very wet, cold Sunday and wanted to push the tempo.

Sure enough, Pitt allowed an early goal against NIU in the 4th minute, but showed its ability to strike quickly when Bertin Jacquesson dangerous ball in ended with Guilherme Feitosa tapping home a ball that appeared to be going in by the far post.

After taking control, eventually building a 3-1 lead at the half, the Panthers let their guard down again at the start of the second half, as the Huskies cut the lead to 3-2.

Once again, Pitt responded with a pair of goals to pull ahead and take care of business.

It was a performance which pleased Pitt’s Head Coach Jay Vidovich.

“We had a tremendous opponent who tested us early in both halves. I was proud of the way we responded after their [NIU] goals and the resiliency and the ability to take the lead and hold out for the rest of the game. I thought it was a great result for us.”

As Pitt turns the page to the next round, they’re readying for another potential high scoring affair.

The game against Hofstra features two of the most prolific offenses in the nation as the Pride ranks second in the NCAA in scoring offense at 2.67 goals per game and Pitt is fourth at 2.61. The Panthers lead the nation in assists per game (3.22) and points per game (8.44), while Hofstra is second (2.76) and third (8.10), respectively.

The Pride have some talented lads who are determined to take this team where no Hofstra team has gone before.

Ryan Carmichael leads the Pride with 15 goals and nine assists (best in the nation in combined goals/assists). Matthew Vowinkel is second in scoring with 13 goals and nine assists. The fifth-year forward who starred at Long Island’s Chaminade High School, was drafted in the third round of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft by FC Cincinnati, but has forgone his draft status to return to play for this chance to lead the Pride to the College Cup. Vowinkel’s resume includes 42 goals and 16 assists in his college career.

Hendrik Hebbeker has nine goals and shares the team lead in assists (11) with Storm Strongin. Wessel Speel has a 0.76 goals against average and 65 saves in goal for Hofstra and hs started all 21 games.

Ironically, Hofstra’s attack against Penn State mirrored what Northern Illinois did against Pitt, as they set the pace with goals in the very early going of each half.

It was the sophomore from Northern Ireland, Carmichael, who scored in the 3rd minute of the match to stun the Nittany Lions at Jeffrey Field in University Park. The Pride worked the wide channels and showed its precision in the air when Matthew Vowinkel headed a pass from the top of the box over to Mason Tatafu, who sailed the ball over to Carmichael where he headed the ball home, giving the Pride an early lead.

Unlike the Panthers did against Northern Illinois, the Nittany Lions never recovered and didn’t seize control of the match after allowing an early goal.

More goals came in the 30th and 37th minutes, then Hofstra’s attack became even more relentless against PSU in the second half, as they scored 23 seconds after kickoff when Francesco Perinelli broke through for his first goal of the season after Hebbeker sent the ball towards the goal, where Carmichael sent it back across to Perinelli who tapped the ball in the net. From that point, the rout was on.

The Pride showed its quick striking ability in the first round, when they stormed back from a 2-1 halftime deficit against Lipscomb. The Pride scored three goals in a span of 3:50. Goals came from Hebbeker, Carmichael and Vowinkel.

Surely, Vidovich is hoping not to allow any goals, but would like to see his team do a better job of putting the clamps down early in each half against Hofstra, a team that will show no fear, even in an NCAA tournament match on the road, of going on the attack early and often.

After sledging through the ACC Tournament with tense, tight matches against strong defensive units, pulling out an overtime win against Virginia Tech, but falling to Notre Dame, 2-0, a few talented Panthers were looking more comfortable and responded in big way when things opened up again versus Northern Illinois.

As the season has gone on, Bertin Jacquesson started to find his form which earned him ACC Freshman of the Year in 2020-21.

There was a stretch this Fall where it appeared the native of Lorrez-Le-Bocage, France, wasn’t making enough of an impact and playing lesser minutes. Even after picking up the pace with four goals and eight assists in the final month of the regular season and the ACC first round match vs Virginia Teach, the right-side winger came up short in Pitt’s loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament.

Vidovich cited that his team created most of its chances from the left side in that match, as Pitt didn’t generate enough from Jacquesson’s side.

That changed against Northern Illinois, as Jacquesson tallied a dynamite goal from a one-time shot off the bounce along with three assists. For the season, Jacquesson has six goals and 11 assists.

With his performance on Sunday, Jacquesson earned honors from Soccer News, making its Team of the Week.

When the Panthers are most dangerous and clicking on all cylinders, they have an array of scoring options and can exploit its opponents’ weaknesses from both sides, through the middle and on set pieces.

Not a regular starter for much of his four years at Pitt, Rodrigo Almeida stepped up this fall to add seven goals and six assists while last season’s MAC Hermann Award finalist Valentin Noel has seven goals and four assists. Alexander Dexter and Matt Bailey have been adding their contributions to the left side, while freshman Guilherme Feitosa has been another dynamic option, playing alongside Noel as a central attacking midfielder.

Feitosa’s emergence and increased playing time in that position has come at the expense of the Panthers’ losing one of its key contributors from its 2020-21 College Cup run and earlier this season: Veljko Petkovic. The TopDrawer Player of the Year for 2020-21, who scored nine goals and was the most accurate shot taker for the Panthers, got off to a good start this Fall, registering five goals and five assists in the first 10 games.

It was confirmed by Pitt Athletic Department spokesperson that Petkovic is no longer with the program and has left the school.

The Panthers have continued on without Petkovic, having enough attacking options to count on.

If this turns into a track meet, Pitt has plenty of confidence in getting the job done on both ends.

When things get open-ended, Pitt finds itself in a position with a talented last line of defenders. Pitt has found Nico Campuzano to be reliable as a goalkeeper to make some big saves in his career, while veteran center backs Arturo Ordonez and Mohammad Abualnadi who are strong in one-on-one defending and recoveries.

Campuzano’s played all 18 games in goal and has a 1.17 goals against average and 47 saves.

As the NCAA tournament continues and a few steps away from returning to the College Cup for the second time this calendar year, Saturday’s upcoming match-up against Hofstra has the potential to be an exciting match with both teams put its attacking talent on display.

After all, more goals the merrier, right?
Pitt-Hofstra Notes

  • Hofstra and Pittsburgh have met just once before with the Panthers posting a 2-1 victory at 2004 LIU Classic.
  • Hofstra is 8-1 in one-goal games this season
  • The Panthers maintained its training regiment through the week, and after Thursday’s training session, the team enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal together.

  • Meanwhile, the Pride arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday too.

  • This is Hofstra’s 18th 10-win season in program history (68 seasons) and the 15th under Coach Nuttall’s direction. Hofstra’s 3-1 win over Columbia was the 300th career victory for Hofstra Head Men’s Soccer Coach Richard Nuttall. He is 308-246-77 in his 33 seasons and is the 22nd active Division I head coach with300 wins. He is one of five coaches with 300 wins at just one school.

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).

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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