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Panthers fall to Notre Dame in Elite Eight

When Pitt looks back on the 2021 season, it will be remembered as the year they were undone, time and time again, by the Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. Notre Dame beat the Panthers 1-0 in a regular season matchup on October 16. The Irish beat Pitt again on November 10, 2-0, to knock them out of the ACC Tournament.

And on Saturday night in South Bend, Indiana, after 120 minutes of soccer, Notre Dame eliminated Pitt from the NCAA Tournament on penalty kicks, 4-2.

The match was fast and physical from the first whistle, as both teams used pace and long passing to get down the flanks and into the final third over and over again. After an evenly-matched first forty minutes, it would be Pitt that found the first goal as Brazilian Freshman Guilherme Feitosa would find the goal on an assist from veteran fullback Jasper Löefelssend.

After the halftime break, Notre Dame took control of the match, dominating possession for much of the second frame. They would eventually find the back of the net on a header by Paddy Burns, as he redirected a curling ball from Ethan O’Brien in the 67th minute into the bottom-right corner of the goal.

 

At home, and with a packed-crowd bellowing their encouragement, Notre Dame continued to press for the breakthrough goal in overtime. The Irish had the better of the possession again and had some good looks on goal that went begging.

After 120 minutes, the game was placed in the hands of the goalkeepers.

Pitt and Notre Dame both converted their first two shots. But Notre Dame goalkeeper Bryan Dowd would make a save on Pitt’s third attempt. After the blue and gold converted their third attempt, Pitt upperclassman Alexander Dexter stepped up to the penalty spot knowing that a miss or a save would end the season for the Panthers. His opposite number, Dowd, knew a save would send the Irish to the Final Four.

Dowd won. Notre Dame move on. The Panthers come home vanquished.

Much like the 2020 season, Pitt was exceptional this year, but came up just a few games short of earning a trophy. The 2020 Panthers fell in the ACC Tournament Final to Clemson and the NCAA College Cup semi-final to Indiana; the 2021 team was felled in the ACC semi-final and the NCAA quarterfinals – both times by Notre Dame.

This will certainly be a bitter pill for Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich and his team. After the crazy Covid-altered season of 2020, his team rose to the challenge and had the best season in the history of the men’s soccer program. Due to Covid, the NCAA ruled that players in all sports were to be granted an additional year of NCAA eligibility, which gave many of his senior players a chance to come back for one more ride, only to fall just a bit short of hoisting the College Cup again. The team will graduate more than a few of its key players before 2022, including goalkeeper Nick Campuzano, attacking midfielder Jackson Walti, forward Alexander Dexter, and 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jasper Löeffelsend. There will certainly be a need for some big time recruits and some of the team’s younger players to step into larger roles next year.

For now, Pitt can rest knowing they have completed another high-flying season under coach Vidovich in which the program has become a perennial challenger in the ACC. And perhaps they can continue to progress next season and finally earn one of the trophies that has eluded them until now.

 

 

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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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