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Pitt Men's Soccer

Pitt wins, now braces for NCAA 2nd Round showdown at Akron

Photo courtesy Pitt Athletics

PITTSBURGH — Pitt faced off against Cleveland State Thursday night at Ambrose Urbanic Field in a cold, windy, wintery First Round matchup of the NCAA Tournament. Pitt managed to hold off Cleveland State on offense, while scoring some goals of their own to win the matchup 2-1 to progress on to the next round.

The Panthers’ (9-4-5) win is the first in 90 minutes since they defeated Duquesne, 5-2, on Oct. 17. It is also the second straight win over the Vikings (11-4-5) in consecutive seasons, as the Panthers defeated them 4-0 in 2021. The win puts the Panthers into the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year as well. The Panthers also stay perfect at home in the NCAA Tournament with a 4-0 record.

“I thought they brought the right mentality,” Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich said after the win. “They came on out, they pushed, they defended well. They made some really good attacking actions in the final third. Didn’t fall for us as easy as you’d like, but we did some good things.”

Pitt almost scored within the first two minutes. Graduate midfielder Lucas Rosa delivered a corner into the middle of the box. The cross found graduate defender Yanis Leerman, who leaped and volleyed it, but it went just wide right.

The Panthers made a few other chances, but nothing that seriously threatened Vikings’ goalkeeper, senior Omeed Naeemy. Graduate midfielder Jackson Walti sent in a long shot that went just wide in the eighth minute, Rosa curled a shot right to Naeemy in the 22nd minute and then senior midfielder Valentin Noel shot with the inside of his foot right at Naeemy for an easy save in the 26th minute.

Pitt broke through in the 28th minute to take the lead. Graduate forward Josh Luchini made a pass to an unmarked sophomore midfielder Michael Sullivan. Sullivan moved down the left wing and fired in a cross that found junior forward Bertin Jacquesson, who made a great run and slotted the ball into the back of the net for the opening goal.

“I saw good combination play between Michael [Sullivan] and Josh [Luchini] and also Valentin Noel in the box,” Jacquesson said. “I was coming from the backside of the defender and I just tried to make my way in and surprise the defender and then I was alone. I was coming from the right side and then I came in as quick as possible when I saw the combination play.”

Pitt continued to make chances throughout the second half to build on their lead. Off some great build up play, Noel left a great pass for Jacquesson, but his shot went just wide of the left post in the 50th minute. Noel also put in a great cross that went through the box and just past the outstretched leg of graduate midfielder Rodrigo Almeida. Jacquesson got onto the cross, but put his shot into the side netting.

Graduate defender Yanis Leerman played a great game for the Panthers. He continuously made big tackles and helped the Panthers’ defense hold the Vikings to six total shots and three shots on goal in the match.

His best play came in the 73rd minute. Cleveland State junior forward Bojan Kolveski got through the back line of Pitt after a great through ball. Kolveski faced a one-on-one opportunity with Pitt senior goalkeeper Joe van der Sar, but Leerman sprinted back and made a slide tackle on Kolveski that knocked the ball out for a corner.

“He brings a maturity,” Vidovich said about Leerman’s game. “He brings bite to the game. He’s good on the pass. He can cover the pass that’s behind him as well as stepping in space in front of him. He brings a winning mentality to us. He’s been a tremendous addition to us.”

The Panthers doubled their lead in the 77th minute. Almeida crossed his defender and put a cross right into the middle of the box. The ball went past Naeemy and found its way to Jacquesson, who put it away for an easy second goal.

That goal made it two for Jacquesson and also his first multi-goal game for Pitt. It also puts him 10th all-time for Pitt in career points.

Pitt defense and Van der Sar played well to stop some late chances to keep Cleveland State scoreless.

The Vikings did manage to score a late goal in the 89th minute. Graduate midfielder Hector Gomez put a shot right at the left post and got it just past Van der Sar’s right glove to give the Vikings one last chance.

Pitt managed to hold on for the win with so little time remaining and earned a spot in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

There, they take on Akron on the road on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. Pitt and Akron played on Sept. 19 at Ambrose Urbanic Field in a 3-3 thrilling match. Jacquesson said that it will be a much different match than the one played earlier in the season.

“I think it was a very good game this year against Akron,” Jacquesson said. “We bounced back from two goals behind, but I think it’s not going to be the same game. I think it’s going to be a much tighter game, but they also like to attack and go forward. So I think there’s going to be space to find [my teammates] as well. I think it’s going to be a tight game, but we can do it. I’m excited to play against them and I’m confident.”

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