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Preview: A Pitt-Duquesne men’s soccer ‘City Game’ like we’ve never seen before

Photo courtesy Zac Weiss

Rewind to August 2021, Pitt men’s soccer program was coming off an appearance in the NCAA Division I men’s soccer College Cup for the first time in its history, while Duquesne men’s team managed to play just six matches in 2020-21 COVID-19 shortened campaign, posting a 2-5-0  overall mark (2-4-0 in Atlantic 10).

The Dukes program ran through a stretch of four straight seasons in Atlantic 10 competition, (from 2017-2020), without a winning record, and one .500 overall record during that span (8-8-1, in 2019).

Bringing back a roster that included 10 returning starters from the Final Four run, with momentum clearly on its side, Pitt came out firing on all cylinders against Duquesne that August night, en route to a 7-0 win at Ambrose Urbanic Field.

FINAL: No. 3 Pitt 7, Duquesne 0

PSN’s Zac Weiss caught up with Duquesne Head Coach Chase Brooks shortly after that match, and as one might expect, he wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance on the night.

“Anybody who’s an athlete at this level or has been around the game long enough, results like this are unacceptable,” Brooks said at the time. “You saw a lot of guys who were a little bit shell-shocked by this experience.”

“What you saw was a young team humbled and wasn’t able to overcome that in the moment. This team has more that they can give, more in the tank. That’s our job as a staff to go back over the next few days and make sure they realize you have more that you can give. As long they trust themselves and work hard for each other, we’re going to be just fine.”

Sounding Off on Soccer: Duquesne men’s soccer revival with Chase Brooks and Zac Weiss

Pitt would go on an have another oustanding season, winning the ACC Coastal Division title for the second straight season, and they advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.

What few would have expected after that 7-0 loss, was that Brooks’ was right.

They would not only be fine, they would have a historical season on the Bluff.

Duquesne turned things around following that opening night debacle, to complete its first winning season since 2016, finish unbeaten at home and make a run to the Atlantic 10 Championship Game, where they narrowly lost to another team that made it to the NCAA’s Elite EIght, Saint Louis.

Boosted by a successful 2021 campaign and a large number of returnees, that have included the likes of team captain Maxi Hopfler and midfielder and former West Allegheny standout, Nate Dragisch, along with goalkeeper Dominic Nascimben, the Dukes have shown that the previous season’s success wasn’t a fluke, as they’ve reached this point in the 2022 season with a 10-3-1 overall record, and they’re unbeaten in Conference play (4-0-2). Their only loss was at nationally ranked Akron (1-0).

The Dukes also brought in a transfer from Pitt this season, as Anthony Harding will be the only player in this match-up who has played for both schools. The former Norwin High School standout, was a role player, who made occasional starts at Pitt, most notably, getting the nod in the 2019 postseason at outside back for the Panthers.

Harding makes most of surprise start for Pitt in NCAA tournament

As a gradute student with an extra year of eligibility, Harding has come to Duquesne, where even he told the coaching staff that he was surprised how intense and competitive the training environment was when he arrived on the Bluff.

While he didn’t begin the season with the Dukes getting a lot of playing time, Harding has made 14 appearances, with an assist in 685 appearances, mostly as an outside back.

Heading into Monday night’s City Game, the Dukes are currently ranked 25th in the United Soccer Coaches Poll.

On the flip side, for the first time in more than 35-plus weeks, the Panthers are not ranked.

Pitt came into this season ranked in the Top 10, and moved up as high as 2nd following wins vs Georgetown and West Virginia to open the season, are currently on the outside of the polls looking in.

Pitt (6-3-3, 3-2-1 ACC)  did finally get back to winning ways, ending a four-game winless streak, by defeating ACC foe, Virginia Tech, 1-0, on the road Friday night.

Sounding Off on Soccer: Dissecting Riverhounds SC, Pitt men’s recent struggles

Meanwhile, the Dukes rode an emotional 2-1 win vs A-10 opponent, Davidson, on Saturday.

Duquesne overcomes Davidson, emotions in victory

Only 48 hours later, the Dukes will have to turn around and play their crosstown rival who embarrassed them a year ago.

Brooks and many of the returning Duquesne players have said they used that loss as motivation for a run that would result in an Atlantic 10 Championship finals appearance.

Now Duquesne heads to its local rival as the only ranked team between the pair.

“We’ve got to ride the emotion, we know there’s going to be adrenaline because you will always be up to play an ACC team, we’ve got to come in and do our job,” said Brooks. “It’s awesome for the city and soccer in our community. Hopefully we’ll provide a fun night for everyone involved.”

As for any questions about whether Duquesne will be tired heading into the matchup, Zac Weiss reports that the Dukes trained Sunday before sunrise, then plan to go all out Monday night, using adrenaline as an advantage.

With Duquesne’s ascension, this provides Pitt, with yet another high-level opponent on the schedule.  Monday’s match will be the fifth non-conference meeting they’ll have this season against a Nationally Ranked opponent.

Pitt has already faced Georgetown, West Virginia, Marshall and Denver.  This doesn’t even include its brutally tough ACC opponents they face in conference.

The Panthers may have the toughest schedule in the country. And Head Coach Jay Vidovich wouldn’t want it any other way.

This is still a team that has All-American caliber talent, with Bertin Jacquesson patrolling the right wing, and Val Noel finding his way into scoring position, time and time again. They’ve had to work through this season with a back line in transition, with some uncharacteristic defensive lapses that have haunted them. Prior to Friday’s win at Virginia Teach, the Panthers allowed the first goal in each of the previous five games.

After conceding early again against Denver, Vidovich didn’t hide his frustration in an interview with PSN’s Dominic Campbell, even though his team did battle back to level the match twice and settled for a draw.

“I thought the effort and quality was below our standards,” Vidovich said. “Our performance was below our standards of what we expect in every which way. Just disappointed.”

With first place Duke looming on Friday, Vidovich will be demanding a high level performance against a Duquesne team that should, in no way, resemble the team they last faced back in August 2021.

Pitt has had its way with Duquesne in the all-time series.

Seems like you would think they would have played more than a dozen times, but Pitt and Duquesne have only played 12 regular season matches ever.

Pitt owns the 9-0-2 advantage in the series. The Panthers have won four straight and they’re 6-0-1 against the Dukes at home while outscoring them 16-1 in those matches. Overall in the series, Pitt is outscoring Duquesne 23-3. The Dukes haven’t scored more than one goal in any match against the Panthers in the all-time series.

The series history may be daunting to Duquesne, but there’s no time like the present to reverse their fortunes.

And if there’s a time and a team that can unlock Pitt’s ‘City Game’ series stronghold, this year’s Duquesne squad has shown they can play with anyone and are up to the task.

It should be a lot of fun to watch a ‘City Game’ match-up that is unlike any we’ve seen before on Monday night.

 

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).

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