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Pitt’s Jay Vidovich Speaks on upcoming College Cup matchup vs Indiana

Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich spoke to members of the press during media availability on Monday via Zoom.

Vidovich is in his seventh season as Pitt head coach. He has propelled the program from the bottom of the ACC to one of the best teams in the country, with four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, three consecutive Elite Eight Appearances and two College Cups.

This weekend sees the Panthers make their second College Cup in the last three seasons. They made it for the first time in the COVID-19 impacted 2020-21 season, where they fell to the Indiana Hoosiers in the semifinals.

Once again, Pitt faces off against No. 12 Indiana this Friday, Dec. 9 in Cary, N.C. in the College Cup semifinals once again.

Despite the heartbreak last time against Indiana, Vidovich is no stranger to success at the College Cup, winning it all in 2007 and finishing as a semifinalist in 2006, 2008 and 2009 as Wake Forest head coach. He said that he is excited for the opportunity to compete again at the College Cup and is ready for the challenge.

“Got an interesting team with me this year,” Vidovich said.

“It’s been a grind throughout the year. We had our ups and downs. We’ve had some really good performances. We’ve come up short at times, but I think the guys continue to grow and they look excited. I think they’ve had a good run in the tournament so far. Just like the way they are performing lately.”

Vidovich doesn’t view this Indiana team or this Pitt team as the same at all from the 2021 matchup, noting that 20 of the players on his team are currently no longer there. He also noted that because COVID-19 impacted that season, that it is a much different scenario playing in December than in May.

Vidovich didn’t spend much time studying Indiana specifically before the press conference on Monday, but said that he watched a lot of film, as they played many similar opponents to Pitt. Indiana played Clemson, Portland, Marshall, Notre Dame and Akron this season and finished with a 3-1-1 record against them, while Pitt finished with a 2-1-3 record against this same opponents.

“As much as I can say, they look to me like a very similar Indiana team that can win big games and are committed as a group,” Vidovich said.

“They’ve got an attacking piece that they can find ways to get to goals one way or another. They’re very capable and competitive all over the field. That’s about all that I can say as them right now.”

There are only five players who are still on this Panthers team that faced the Hoosiers in the 2021 College Cup semifinal. They are four midfielders in junior Filip Mirkovic, senior Valentin Noel, graduates in Jackson Walti and Rodrigo Almeida, and one forward in junior Bertin Jacquesson.

Vidovich said that those players have the experience needed to be ready for a game like this. He also said that they know what Indiana brings to their games and that they prepare their teammates for a tough match.

“There’s maybe four or five guys on the team that know about the experience,” Vidovich said.

In their mind, they’ll know what you need to bring in a match like that. Hopefully they shared enough in the locker room about just the moment, just being at the college cup and how prestigious it is, how to cherish it and the importance of going out and putting your best on the pitch. So, yeah I think playing Indiana will be a tremendous opportunity for us.”

Pitt faced some tough opponents this season in non-conference play. They played six ranked teams at the time and only one non-ranked team, finishing with a 3-1-2 record against the ranked opponents.

The Panthers also faced some struggles across the season with a rigorous ACC schedule to follow, which presented challenges, but ultimately, prepared this team for this moment according to Vidovich. He credits the difficult, but rewarding, schedule to success from previous seasons, which allows the Panthers to now take on tougher teams.

“So that opportunity to play against difficult teams under pressure moments, we had to figure out where we came up short and find solutions going forward,” Vidovich said. “I think that was the strength of the grind and how it’s preparing us right now.”

Defensively, Pitt is playing some of their best soccer across the season. They’ve only given up two goals in their four NCAA Tournament matches, which includes two shutouts against Akron in the Second Round and Portland last Saturday in the Elite Eight in extra time.

It is even more impressive considering that goalkeeper and the back four are all new players for Pitt this season.

They are led by senior goalkeeper Joe van der Sar, who holds eight shutouts on the season so far, fourth most in a single season in Panthers history.

It also contains two midfielders in graduate Lucas Rosa and sophomore Matteo Maillefaud, who play right back and left back, respectively. Rosa started at the right back position from the beginning of the season, but Maillefaud started playing more consistently at the left back position in late September,

He came into the Virginia game on Sept. 30 when senior defender Mohammad Abualnadi suffered an injury in the first few minutes.

Maillefaud is a player that grew in confidence over the season, from making a crucial mistake that lead to a goal in that 3-1 loss to Virginia to controlling the game and moving the ball up the pitch. He is an attacking threat as well as a staunch defender.

The centre back pairing of graduate Yanis Leerman and first-year Jackson Gillman is one of the best in the country. Both players are incredible on the ball and are quick to take down any threats in the box or on the attack.

Leerman dealt with injury, but is now playing his fifth consecutive match and gaining consistency. Gillman is one of four players to play and start all 21 matches this season and earned a spot on the ACC All-Freshman team.

Vidovich credits this consistency to the better play of the defensive unit, but also said that the entire team defends as a collective and doesn’t rely on the back four.

“…The most important piece is that it’s a collective defense,” Vidovich said. “Our backs are expecting our front runners and our midfielders to do a lot of work defensively, just as we expect our backs to be doing a lot of work offensively. While yes they are a unit, the unit is much more of a collective as a team that this is the way we’re going to defend.”

The success over the years for Vidovich comes down to not just having great players, but a strong culture. Vidovich credits everyone from the staff, players, university and the grounds crew for believing in the program and helping to build it up over his time as head coach.

“I think we’ve worked really hard to create a positive culture where it allows you to perform at your best,” Vidovich said. “The best is expected out of you. The support of the university has been great to build this and to grow the sport in Pittsburgh. Yeah I think the players, them buying into what we want to do, the vision of what we thought we could do in the ACC and hopefully nationally.”

 

 

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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