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Pitt Men's Soccer

Pitt’s Josh Luchini and Michael Sullivan show the strength of WPIAL Soccer

When it comes to soccer in the Pittsburgh region, many people have doubts about the stature and talent that lies within.

For Pitt men’s soccer players, graduate forward Josh Luchini and sophomore midfielder Michael Sullivan, they’re showing why there’s great soccer talent throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Both Luchini and Sullivan starred in the WPIAL, also known as PIAA District 7, in high school before joining the Panthers.

Luchini played for North Allegheny Senior High School, in Wexford Pa. from 2014-17, leading the offensive attack.

He helped his team to two straight WPIAL Class AAAA titles in last two years, 2016-17, while also scoring 36 goals and making 17 assists in his senior season. He earned All-Region honors in that senior season, as well as a spot on the United Soccer Coaches Fall High School All-American team.

Sullivan starred for Deer Lakes High School, just up route 28, and hails from Tarentum, Pa. He scored 69 goals and 51 assists during his high school career, starring for a school that did not have a significant history of soccer success.

He led the Lancers to the WPIAL final for the first time in school history in his junior season, as scored 20 goals and created 17 assists. Sullivan won All-Section and All-WPIAL honors for his efforts during that year.

Sullivan then helped the Lancers to their first WPIAL Title in Class 2A in 2020, scoring 22 goals and making 11 assists. For his excellent play for Deer Lakes in his senior year, Sullivan received All-Section, All-WPIAL and All-State Honors and also earned a spot on the All-American shortlist.

Luchini didn’t originally attend Pitt, opting instead to go to Lehigh, where his brother, Jamie, played from 2012-15. He bonded with teammates of his brother, who were seniors at the time, and played some great soccer for Lehigh from 2018-21.

His most impressive season came as a sophomore in 2019. Luchini scored a team high 11 goals as the Mountain Hawks won the Patriot League and moved on to the NCAA Tournament.

Luchini faced off against his hometown team in Pitt in that NCAA Tournament First Round matchup. Despite having two great early chances, Luchini didn’t put either of them away. Pitt eventually won the match, 2-0, for their first ever NCAA Tournament win.

Towards the end of his senior season, Luchini realized that he wanted one last chance to go to a bigger and better school for his final year of eligibility. For Luchini, the school of choice was an easy decision.

“Pitt was definitely my top choice all the way through,” Luchini said. “Such a big program and being able to come home for the last year. Just be around family and allow them to come to all the games it just kind of meant something special to me.”

Sullivan understood the demand for his ability at the collegiate level during the spring season of his junior year, as the offers came in quickly. Like Luchini, despite the other opportunities from Pittsburgh Area schools, Sullivan saw joining the Panthers as the best place to be.

“Coming from Pittsburgh, the best school in the city is Pitt,” Sullivan said. “So when you start having Pitt talk to you, you kind of stop listening to everything else.”

Both players share a solid relationship at Pitt, bonding over their time playing and living in the Pittsburgh area.

“It definitely helps that he’s from Pittsburgh,” Luchini said about Sullivan. “Even just starting to get to know people and just like a starting point in a relationship. It definitely helped us to get closer, just have conversations about WPIAL soccer. Interesting to see another perspective of WPIAL soccer.”

Sullivan first met Luchini when the two faced off against each other in a scrimmage in high school. He acknowledged that Luchini’s North Allegheny team were far better than his team, but that it is great to see Luchini sharing a locker room with him.

The WPIAL duo’s success shows the growth of the sport in the region as a whole and of the WPIAL itself.

For Luchini, he has seen many different high schools within the region seriously competing for WPIAL titles, which is different than the few schools that normally dominated.

“Whenever I was growing up, there was really, it was Upper St. Clair and Peters Township as the two main powerhouses that I can think of,” Luchini said. “Really the only teams that were winning WPIAL Championships. Now it seems like six, seven, eight teams that are highly competing. Not only in the WPIALS, but at states. I mean it’s really nice to see Western PA get some recognition in soccer.”

Sullivan sees the love of soccer within the entire city and also from the WPIAL to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who recently made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the playoffs this season.

“It’s leaps and bounds above where it was when I was a freshman,” Sullivan said. “It’s continuing to grow. It’s awesome. Just the whole city of Pittsburgh’s starting to get behind soccer. You start to see the Riverhounds games, the number of people they’re putting in the stands, night in and night out. The city of Pittsburgh wants a soccer team. They love watching soccer. So the more kids we get playing youth-wise, going up through the youth system. It’s amazing.”

Luchini and Sullivan both play for the Panthers and start almost every game. Luchini plays on the left wing as a forward, opposite star junior forward Bertin Jacquesson and next to star midfielder Valentin Noel. Sullivan plays in the midfield and serves as an attacking midfielder that bolsters the play of both junior Filip Mirkovic and graduate Jackson Walti.

The move from a mid-major to a top school in the ACC is something that is challenging for Luchini. He said that the pace is far faster than he played at Lehigh and that every player is “top notch.”

In terms of his game, Luchini is working on his finishing, which he said is his best quality as a soccer player. He scored two important goals in the 3-0 win over NC State in September and once against Duquesne in October, but there have been many chances that Luchini missed this season that he regrets. Still, working through injuries this season, Luchini provides experience and talent on the left wing for Pitt.

Sullivan, while mainly working behind Noel, has started some games where he plays up front and functions almost as a striker. He played a big part in the ACC Tournament, scoring two goals, including the go-ahead goal in overtime, in the 4-1 win over NC State. 

While he likes to play in an attacking midfield role, Sullivan wants to play and will go wherever needed on the pitch.

“Whatever gets me on the field I’m good to play in,” Sullivan said. “I’d say midfielder wise, I like to be able to face forward. I’m not a big physical specimen, so having my back to goal can be challenging sometimes playing in the ACC against 6-foot-5 centrebacks. So when I take up the ball and drive at defenses, I think that’s one of my strong suits.”

Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich sees great strengths in both players and what they bring to the them.

Vidovich initially recruited Luchini out of high school before he chose to go to Lehigh. When Luchini let him know that he wanted to return home, Vidovich knew him well, especially watching him in that NCAA Tournament match. This made it an easy decision for him to bring Luchini into the team give him the minutes he has this season.

As for Sullivan, Vidovich saw a player that had ambition and the drive not only on the field, but in the classroom to make himself a well-rounded human being. He also describes Sullivan as a player that defends as a striker and attacks as a midfielder.

Vidovich has signed a number of WPIAL players prior to this year, such as current first-year forward Eben McIntyre from Charleroi High School. This also includes former players in forward Luke Mort from Greensburg Central Catholic High School and defenders Anthony Harding from Norwin High School and Dominic Reiter from Quaker Valley High School. It also includes a pair of brothers in midfielder Alex Peperak (2016-19) and Luke Peperak from Connellsville Area Senior High School.

He said that the WPIAL region is a great place for players like Sullivan and Luchini to thrive in and perform highly at the next level, particularly at Pitt. He also said that he expects to see the region grow and that quality and quantity of players to improve year-on-year.

“I think that there’s something about being from Western Pa. and wanting to be at Pitt,” Vidovich said. “Knowing a little bit about the university and the city. There’s got to be something there playing for your hometown university. I think they bring those type of qualities to it. I think this area’s naturally competitive. It’s something we’ve tried with several players coming in here and those two players have certainly excelled. They bring a quality to the team. They’re both starting.”

Pitt is back in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. They take on Cleveland State on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at Ambrose Urbanic Field.

Luchini and Sullivan are readying themselves for the NCAA Tournament. Both players have great exceptions for this team and are confident in their abilities to go far in the postseason.

“In all honesty, just grind everything out,” Luchini said. “I think that’s going to be the word for the rest of the season as a grind. Just every team, we’re going to have a target on our back. Every team’s going to want to beat us just like they have been the entire regular season. Everyone brings their best game whenever they play us, so we have to make sure that we’re always bringing ours.”

Pittsburgh Soccer Now Archives: Josh Luchini & Michael Sullivan 

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