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Tense Pitt-Penn State rivalry battle ends 1-1 draw in season opener

Pitt men's soccer forward Albert Thorsen
Photo courtesy Pitt Athletics

PITTSBURGH — In a tense battle between two great in-state rivals, No. 5 Pitt and Penn State fought for the victory, but ended with a 1-1 draw at Ambrose Urbanic Field Thursday night.

The Panthers (0-0-1) open up with a draw at home, their first non-win home opener since a 1-0 loss to then No. 25 Colgate in the 2018 season. It is also the first tie in the series against the Nittany Lions (0-0-1) since 1976 and keeps a two-game undefeated streak for the Panthers, as well.

Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich saw the game as a good contest between two opponents who want to get the best of each other. He has spoken prior on the importance of rivalries in college soccer and he said it showed tonight between the two squads.

“I think it was a tremendous opportunity to play a traditional rivalry, a derby, in-state clash there, so that was a great test” Vidovich said. “Great opportunity for us. We learned a lot about our team, what we have to work on, down a man, down a goal, just how we reacted there. They were all great tests for a very young team that we have. Hats off to Penn State who came on in and gave us a good test, a good run.”

The Panthers had the first chance of the game in the 11th minute. Senior midfielder Filip Mirkovic made a great cross into the box for junior forward Luis Sahmkow, who did manage to get a head on it, but it was a little high and he headed it just over the goal.

Both teams struggled to score throughout the majority of the first half. Pitt had the majority of the shots, 9-2, but for most of their shots, Penn State blocked.

The game also started a bit rough between both sides. Sahmkow fouled Nittany Lions senior defender Femi Awodesu, received a warning from the referee, then fouled him again and got a yellow card in the 16th minute. Vidovich chose to substitute Sahmkow out in the 25h mintute for first-year forward Massimo Murania.

Pitt created a great opportunity to score in the 43rd minute. Junior midfielder Guilherme Feitosa passed it to first-year forward Abdoulaye Touré on the left wing, who then delivered a cross into the box. Penn State fifth year goalkeeper Kris Shakes punched it out, but with a weak effort, it fell back to Feitosa in the box. Feitosa then headed it on goal and Shakes had to make a diving grab to stop it from going in.

The Nittany Lions then scored soon after to take the lead right before halftime in the 44th minute. Redshirt junior midfielder Van Danielson found space after getting a lob pass from junior midfielder Sean Bettenhausen. He then held off Panthers sophomore defender Jackson Gillman, ran into the box and slotted a shot to the right of Panthers sophomore goalkeeper Cabral Carter for the opening goal.

With just seconds left in the first half, Pitt almost leveled it. Junior midfielder Michael Sullivan blasted a shot from far out that Shakes had to make a stretched out save to stop it from getting into the top right corner of the goal.

The Panthers started the second half with a flurry of attacks, but continued to struggle in the final third. On one chance, the Nittany Lions cleared it, Carter failed to clear the ball himself, and instead, putting a weak pass that landed at the feet of fifth year forward Liam Butts. Butts then ran down the pitch, cut inside and took a shot that just missed the left goal post in the 57th minute.

Both teams kept pushing for the next goal, with Penn State trying to settle the game and the Panthers trying to level the score.

Eventually, with a great offensive attack, Pitt would tie the match in the 80th minute. Feitosa, after great build dup, passed the ball down the left wing for Touré, who then put in a great cross for first-year forward Albert Thorsen. Thorsen beat his defender and got a foot on it to score his first goal in his first ever game for Pitt.

A big fight ensued following the goal, that started in the Penn State net. Pitt junior defender Mateo Maillefaud went to get the ball to bring it back to the center circle to restart the game quickly, despite the clock stopping in college soccer after a goal. Shakes went to get the ball first and Maillefaud pushed him over into his net, starting the brawl.

Shakes pushed him back and then Penn State first-year midfielder Freddie Bell pushed Maillefaud over as well. Mirkovic pushed Bell over into the net and everyone else came in to join in the fight. Penn State junior midfielder Sean Bettenhausen also pushed Mirkovic in the face, using both hands.

Mirkovic received a red card for his actions in the donnybrook, while Bettenhausen simply got a yellow card. The home fans cheered on Mirkovic after he left the pitch, which left Pitt with 10 men the rest of the way.

Thorsen didn’t see much in the melee and Vidovich didn’t have a comment on the fight either. Thorsen was too busy celebrating that goal and said that Pitt would’ve won the game with a full team with the momentum they were building.

“Obviously I want to play the last 10 minutes with 11 men because we had the game in our hands, we were playing around them,” Thorsen said. “It is what it is.”

Thorsen played all across the attack for the Panthers against the Nittany Lions, working on both wings and scoring the goal as a striker. He said that he can score and create in all three positions and will play wherever the team needs him going forward.

“I think we’re following the game plan of the coaches, and as we know, they’re a team that doesn’t want to play.” Thorsen said on the draw. “They’re staying compact and not allowing us too much space. First goal, we’re just not focused enough, but then in the second half, we managed to get back and I think the way we keep them away from the goal the last 10 minutes after the red card, we’re really sacrificing ourselves for the team and we just got to keep working on what we do with the ball and the results will come.”

Sullivan said it was good to get the season started with a tough game and that there are many things to work on going forward. As a WPIAL player, who starred at Deer Lakes, Sullivan loved the atmosphere from the 2,000 capacity sold out crowd at Ambrose Urbanic Field.

“I’ll be the first to say this is a top five atmosphere in the country,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t get bigger than Pitt-Penn State home opener at this venue. The energy was electric, the fans were awesome. It was a pleasure to play in front of them.”

Pitt takes on Howard 7 p.m. at home next Monday, Aug. 28, as they look for they first win in 2023.

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