Under Jay Vidovich’s direction, Pitt men’s soccer program reached unprecedented new heights and achieved numerous program milestones each season since the veteran coach took over the program in 2015.
When the Panthers’ exceptional 2021 season came to a grinding halt on the field in South Bend, Indiana, losing a NCAA Tournament Elite Eight round penalty kick shootout to a season long nemesis, Notre Dame, in early December, it was a painful result as the team came of short of its reachable objective to win a National Championship.
“We let ourselves down,” Vidovich acknowledged recently on a phone call with Pittsburgh Soccer Now.
“We failed to take advantage of chances. If we played to our capabilities, we would have reached the Final Four again.”
One of the most bitter aspects of the loss for Vidovich and his program, is that they ended this season knowing that a number of key players who helped Pitt soccer reach new heights, will not be back in 2022.
“A lot of these guys came in, and really elevated the status of the program,” Vidovich said. “They played an exciting brand of soccer. They accomplished a lot. Kudos to them.”
After keeping a core group of players mostly intact from 2019 through this November, the Panthers’ will now see more significant changes in personnel heading into the 2022 campaign, as Vidovich also acknowledged that they have “plenty of big shoes to fill.”
From the 2020-21 (Fall/Spring extended) season to the Fall 2021 dash, the Panthers had little roster turnover, with 10 of 11 starters brought back from the quick May to August turnaround. This was also partly due to COVID-19, as the NCAA ruled that players in all sports were to be granted an additional year of NCAA eligibility, which gave many of Pitt’s senior players a chance to come back for one more ride, only to fall just a bit short of hoisting the College Cup again.
Despite having significant roster continuity at the start of the Fall 2021 campaign, a few notable names, who started the season in August as key contributors to the team, were no longer on Pitt’s roster at the end of the season.
The most glaring was Veljko Petkovic, who was honored by TopDrawerSoccer.com as its National Player of the Year in 2020-21.
Petkovic played just 76 minutes in Pitt’s overtime victory at Syracuse on October 1, leaving the match due to an injury.
Vidovich acknowledged Petkovic was with the team for 3-and-a-half weeks following the injury, but left school at the end of October, removing himself from being part of the team and the University.
As part of a dangerous pairing at the top of the attack with Valentin Noel, Petkovic scored nine goals in the 2020-21 season, as the squad’s second leading scorer, then got off to a hot start in the Fall, registering five goals and five assists in the first 10 games in his third season with the program.
It was confirmed by Pitt Athletic Department spokesperson around the start of the postseason in November, that Petkovic was no longer with the program and left the school.
Petkovic was not the only player to be removed from the team’s roster during the 2021 Fall season. A few other student-athletes who were part of the team’s regular rotation, but started to see a decrease in playing time as the season evolved, were also no longer on the roster by the time the 2021 postseason rolled around.
“There’s a lot of things in involved,” Vidovich said. “It’s disappointing. Especially in a season when we’ve won back-to-back (ACC) Coastal Division championships, there are guys looking to other opportunities. I think about their situations, and how good they were doing and what they could have done with the rest of their careers. I do wish them well.”
One of the things Vidovich pointed to that has led to the increase in players leaving all college sports programs was the NCAA Division I Council’s approval of a one-time transfer for all college athletes.
“It’s a game-changer,” Vidovich said.
The new rule would allow all athletes to move freely at least once, though it includes some stipulations. Athletes must submit to their school a notification of transfer by certain dates to be immediately eligible at their next location. Fall- and winter-sport athletes have to notify their schools by May 1, and spring sport athletes have until July 1.
Among the players from last year’s Pitt men’s soccer roster who have declared their intentions to transfer include:
- Brandan Clagette (played 10 games in Fall 2021, started twice)
- Luke Peperak (played in 12 games in Fall 2021, started once)
- Luke Mort (played 8 games in Fall 2021, started three; last played on October 1)
- Lucas Matuszewski (played five games; started once; had goal and an assist – notably filling in when Arturo Ordonez was injured against Duke)
A few days ago, we learned that Peperak, from Connellsville and a product of Riverhounds Development Acadmey, who was one of the few local players on the roster, will be transfering to Florida Gulf Coast University.
Peperak made 13 appearances during Pitt’s College Cup campaign in 2020-21, registering a goal and an assist.
I want to thank everyone at the University of Pittsburgh. It was an unbelievable experience and was an honor to be one of the “412” boys. The friendships and memories I have made will last a lifetime.
— Luke Peperak (@LPeperak8) December 18, 2021
Matuszewski and Clagette will also be moving on to George Washington and Northwestern, respectively.
Other local players who remain on Pitt’s roster (as of now), include Anthony Harding (who was a redshirt junior in 2021 who will have an extra year of eligibility) and Michael Sullivan (as a true freshman in 2021, made 12 appearances, scored once in 4-0 win vs Cleveland State).
Harding made nine appearances for the Panthers in 2021, after following previous two seasons when he made just six appearances, but did start Pitt’s NCAA Tournament win vs Lehigh in 2019.
Mort did start three matches for the Panthers in 2021, all very early in the season, including the season opener vs Duquesne when he had two assists. By season’s end, he only made eight total appearances, with his last coming on October 1, after making 17 appearances in 2020-21.
Also no longer with the program, is Dominic Reiter, a Quaker Valley graduate and 2019 Gatorade PA Boys High School Player of the Year.
The Panthers’ biggest roster hits will come the old fashioned way — as the program will graduate a number of players, including goalkeeper Nick Campuzano, center back Arturo Ordonez, forward Alexander Dexter, and 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jasper Löeffelsend, along with Matt Bailey, Seto Sena and Rodrigo Almeida.
Additionally, sophomore Bertin Jacquesson, along with Ordonez and Löeffelsend were invited to the Adidas MLS College Showcase in Cary, N.C. A lot of Pitt’s play making capabilites emanated from Löeffelsend and Jacquesson in 2021, as the duo combined for 20 assists.
Vidovich explained that the Jacquesson’s status ‘is in flux’ while the MLS is still working through its Draft process (scheduled for January 11) but the winger from France will maintain his college eligibility as long as he doesn’t sign with an MLS club if he is drafted.
With or without Jacquesson, the Panthers will be turning toward some of the team’s younger players to step into larger roles next year.
Wearing the captain’s armband for a good part of the past few years, Graduate Student Jackson Walti will have another year of eligiblity.
One of the dynamic, younger players is Guilherme Feitosa, who honored by College Soccer News last week, earning a spot on the All-Freshman Second Team.
The Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, native becames the third Panther in the last two seasons to be named on the College Soccer News All-Freshman Team, joining Bertin Jacquesson and Filip Mirkovic who earned the accolades last May.
In 19 games played, Feitosa finished fourth on the team in points with 16, scoring five goals and tallying six assists. He scored his first career goal at home vs. Syracuse Oct. 1, a double-overtime game-winner in the 109th minute. He followed that match up with a goal at home vs. Cleveland State (10/5) and registered three assists against Duke (10/9). The three assists in one game is tied for second in program history.
Feitosa made an impact during Pitt’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight run, scoring two goals and recording one assist during the three-game stretch. He was named ACC Co-Offensive Player of the Week Oct. 12 and named to the All-ACC Freshman Team.
Also expected to return for 2022 will include starters Valentin Noel, a Hermann Trophy finalist in 2020-21 and the program’s leading goal scorer the past two seasons, midfielder Filip Mirkovic and center back Mohammad Abualnadi, and Raphael Crivello.
Vidovich and his staff, which includes former Thomas Jefferson and Maryland standout Rich Costanzo, will be hard on the trail to add some big time recruits, both through the transfer portal and from high school/academy system. Unlike some schools, the Panthers will often wait until late in the Spring or sometimes early in the Summer to officially announce its full roster of signings for the new year.
With the program’s success, and continued placement of players into the professional ranks (Bryce Washington being the most recent example), Vidovich and his staff are expected to land many blue-chip recruits to retool the roster.
Vidovich has already bagged a few talented young players coming out of high school and the academy ranks.
Maybe the most notable being Jackson Gilman, who’s been part of the Philadelphia Union Academy.
Our 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟐 𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐫𝐮𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐂𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬
➡️ Jackson Gilman
📍 Schwenksville, Pa.
⚽️ Has been a part of the Philadelphia Union Academy since 2016
— Pitt Men's Soccer (@Pitt_MSOC) November 14, 2021
The Panthers will also be adding a talented, local player with the addition of a true freshman, Evan McIntyre, who will graduate early from Charleroi High School to begin attending classes at Pitt and training with the team in the spring. McIntyre also played with Century United recently and previously with the Riverhounds Development Academy.
Introducing our 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟐 𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐫𝐮𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐂𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬!
➡️ Eben McIntyre
📍 Speers, Pa.
7️⃣0️⃣ goals and 1️⃣3️⃣ assists senior year at Charleroi High School 💥
— Pitt Men's Soccer (@Pitt_MSOC) November 14, 2021
The returning players, along with McIntyre, will begin training together again when classes resume in January.
Vidovich also confirmed that the Panthers will also resume the more traditional spring friendlies schedule, which will also include a match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to open the slate. Pitt will also be playing numerous prominent college programs including Georgetown and Wake Forest to name a few to stay sharp in the Spring as the team prepares for another run at the ACC and NCAA Men’s Soccer Championships.
Vidovich is hoping that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“We have a lot of work to do, “Vidovich said.
“But, we’re looking forward to getting back at it.”