Pitt men’s soccer team has earned its fourth straight at-large bid to the 48-team NCAA DIvision Men’s Soccer Tournament, as they’ll host Horizon League champions, Cleveland State on Thursday (7 pm).
The winner will face Akron in the second round on Sunday.
However, unlike the past two seasons, when they entered the tournament as ACC Coastal Division champion, it was really up in the air where the Panthers might land, but it looks like they’ll have a tough road to make it to their second College Cup in three years. The Committee will selects the top 16 teams to be seeded in four regions, then the remaining 32 teams will be placed in first-round matches.
Pitt ended up in a first round match this year without a bye.
Pitt ended the regular season in third place in the ACC’s Coastal Division and after winning its first-round playoff match against NC State, they went on the road, dropping a 1-0 result to Virginia in the ACC Quarterfinal Round.
Despite starting the season with Top 10 wins against Georgetown and West Virginia, and ranked as high as No. 2 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, Pitt muddled its way through its rigorous schedule this season to an overall record of 8-4-5. Two of those losses came to Virginia. In their final 11 matches, the Panthers record was 3-3-5.
That’s not exactly a recipe for a team that deserves an at-large bid. However, Head Coach Jay Vidovich knew that one way to prepare a roster patched together with a number of new additions to an experienced core was to face a very tough schedule, both in the ACC and in out of conference matches, with nine matches against ranked opponents.
Many of the newer additions to the 2022 roster included graduate seniors and upperclassman. Pitt had to rebuild its back line entirely and figure out who the answer would be on the left wing, as new additions and some returning players did their best to replace Alexander Dexter, Arturo Ordonez, Jasper Loeffelsend, Bryce Washington and Rafael Crivello, plus its goalkeeper, Nico Campuzano, from the 2020 and 2021 ACC Coastal Division winning teams.
Now that this group has been through a full season together, now is the time for them to come together and put in complete performances. With veteran leadership that includes Jackson Walti, Filip Mirkovic and Bertin Jacquesson, the Panthers have proven this season they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in the country. But their inconsistency, especially in defending in transition and converting on their chances have cost them a higher seed and any shot at winning the ACC regular season or postseason tournament.
The Panthers can look at ACC rival Clemson for inspiration. The Tigers finished the 2021 season with a 5-3-0 ACC record, and did share part of the Atlantic Division regular season crown with Louisville, but were seeded behind Pitt and three other ACC teams in last year’s field.
Yet, when it came down to the needing to escape a few tight early season rounds, the Tigers leaned on its experience and a few solid newcomers to make a run all the way to the NCAA Championship, their third in program history.
Vidovich has been through this drill, and if the Panthers should be well-conditioned to weather the storms of tight contests. This might be a season where they might sneak up on some teams in the field, and most assuredly, a lot of the higher ranked teams don’t want any part of playing in the second, third or elite eight rounds.
It feels like the Panthers did enough in the last two weeks-plus of the regular season and in the ACC tournament to earn its berth. The Panthers defeated Notre Dame and N.C. State, two teams they needed to defeat to put their win-loss record in good position.
Their Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking is currently 19th, which is also another key barometer that will all but get them into the field.
Here’s what the NCAA Men’s Soccer Committee will value when making its at-large selections and determining which 16 teams are seeded, and therefore, get the first-round bye:
- Won-lost record
- Strength of schedule
- Eligibility and availability of student-athletes for NCAA championships
When considering the selection of at-large teams for the men’s soccer championship, this is what the committee values (not necessarily in priority order):
- Adjusted Rating Percentage Index (RPI)
- Head-to-head competition
- Results versus common opponents
- Strength and results against nonconference opponents
- Results against teams already selected (including automatic qualifiers with an RPI of 1-75)
- Late-season performance in last eight games (strength and results).
- Strength and results against conference opponents (regular-season and postseason)
We look forward to sharing more content on Pittsburgh Soccer Now when the brackets are released — and look forward to upcoming features on Pitt players Michael Sullivan and Josh Luchini during the week along with more from Dominic Campbell and I on an upcoming Sounding Off on Soccer Podcast.
TOP RPI TEAMS NOT AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS
- Virginia (3)
- Stanford (5)
- Duke (6)
- Clemson (7)
- Cornell (8)
- SMU (9)
- Vermont (10)
- Akron (13)
- Tulsa (14)
- Maryland (16)
- Pitt (19)
- Oregon State (20)
- Louisville (22)
- Indiana (23)
- Elon (24)
- Wake Forest (25)
- Portland (26)
- Georgetown (27)
- UCLA (29)
- Marshall (30)