Pitt and Penn State men’s soccer teams will battle in an exciting in-state rivalry to open the 2023 season, 7 p.m. Thursday at Ambrose Urbanic Field on Pitt’s upper campus.
The two rivals have played each other 35 times, with the Nittany holding a 24-8-3 advantage in the all-time series. The Panthers have had more success in recent years, by winning the last matchup on the road in 2021, 1-0, and then the last time at home in 2017, 3-2 in overtime.
“We’re ready to get it going,” Pitt senior midfielder Filip Mirkovic said Wednesday on Sounding Off on Soccer podcast with PSN’s John Krysinsky.
“We know they won’t back down. It’s exciting. Looking forward to this match up. We have a lot of good players returning, and the new guys have been fantastic, so we’ll be ready.”
The Nittany Lions finished 6-6-4 overall and 3-2-3 in the Big Ten last season, losing in the Quarterfinal of the conference tournament to eventual NCAA College Cup finalists Indiana.
They bring back one of the best forwards in the nation in senior Peter Mangione. Mangione finished with a team high eight goals and 18 points, while also providing two assists last season. He has received honors like the United Soccer Coaches Forwards to Watch List, No. 25 on the Top 100 Preseason College Soccer Players and Preseason Best XI Second Team by TopDrawerSoccer.
Penn State also returns fifth year forward Liam Butts, who scored seven goals and provided three assists for 17 points in 2022. His goals and points total finished second best and his three assists finished third best on the team, respectively. Fifth year goalkeeper Kris Shakes is back for his final season as a Nittany Lion, starting all but one game last season and keeping two clean sheets.
With 10 newcomers on the roster for the Nittany Lions, they bring a mostly new team. They didn’t receive any interest in the preseason nationally, with no votes in the first United Soccer Coaches Rankings.
Pitt comes into 2023 ranked No. 5 in that first United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll. They also earned ACC Coastal Division Preseason favorite honors, in votes collected from amongst the conference coaches.
The Panthers boast great players in returners senior midfielder Filip Mirkovic and sophomore defender Jackson Gilman, who have both placed in the Top 100 Preseason College Soccer Players by TopDrawerSoccer.
Mirkovic, who is also on the ACC Preseason Watch List, United Soccer Coaches Midfielder to Watch List and Preseason Best XI Third Team by TopDrawerSoccer, is one of the best midfielders in the country, especially with his ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. He made 12 assists in 2022, a program record of a Panthers in a single season, and his .60 assists per game finished as No. 7 in the nation.
He placed on the First Team All-ACC and All-South Region Team thanks to his great play last season.
Mirkovic played a large role in helping Pitt reach their third straight Elite Eight and their second ever College Cup appearance. He has made 59 appearances and 55 starts in his Pitt career, making 19 assists and scoring nine goals. Those 19 assists and his 0.32 assists per game are both fourth best in program history.
Mirkovic was a guest on PSN’s Sounding Off on Soccer podcast this week.
Gilman served as one of the best centre-backs on the team, as well as one of the best first-year players in the country. He started every game for the Panthers, third most minutes on the team, and helped to record eight shutouts, tied for fourth most in a season, and the lowest average goals allowed per game in program history at 1.02.
The Panthers also bring back juniors, defender Mateo Maillefaud and midfielders Michael Sullivan and Guilherme Feitosa.
They also have 16 newcomers, that fit a variety of roles and make for an unpredictable team, which makes sense since they lost 15 players from last season’s College Cup appearance.
Still, with head coach Jay Vidovich heading into his eighth season with the program and off the back of three straight Elite Eights and two College Cups, Pitt should function as one of the best teams in the ACC and the country.
Tickets for the game are $8 per person and $5 per person with a group of 15 or plus. With rumors that this might end up being a sellout, any fan should prepare ample time and make sure they purchase a ticket prior to going Thursday night.