PITTSBURGH — It seems like the Pitt men’s soccer 2023 season just started, but the program celebrated four players against then ranked No. 9 Duke at Ambrose Urbanic Field Saturday night for the Senior Night.
Graduate students in defender Fabian Grau and midfielder Joao Souza, senior midfielder Filip Mirkovic and junior midfielder Mathys Lefebvre all received recognition, as they are leaving the Panthers following this season. Each one of the players had players on the team, friends and/or family members join them on the field prior to the match with the Blue Devils, as they received a plaque with their jersey.
Mirkovic is the star of the group, featuring as one of the greatest players ever in Pitt men’s soccer history. He has started 68 of 72 matches in his four seasons with the team, including all 33 in the past two seasons. He leads the team in assists this season with nine holds the program record for most in a Pitt career with 28.
Since he joined Pitt in 2020, he has served as a crucial member in three straight Elite Eight appearances and also making two College Cups during that time as well.
Sophomore centre-back Jackson Gilman, who has started every game with Mirkovic these past two seasons, praised him for his leadership amongst the team and how his level of play inspires others to improve theirs.
“I think it’s just every practice and every game he’s shown up and he’s just been a force on pitch,” Gilman said. “Whether it’s with his voice or his actions or his quality on the ball, he just consistently shows what he can bring to the table and that pushes guys to want push for more and bring their quality up.”
Grau and Souza both joined the program ahead of last season. Grau hails from Hamburg, Germany and played four seasons for FC Eintracht Norderstedt 03 in the Regionalliga Nord, the fourth tier on the German soccer pyramid.
He started the first three matches of the season, but after a 4-0 loss to Georgetown on Sept. 1, he only played in two matches off the bench from that time until last week. He came back into the starting lineup and managed to play a role in holding clean sheets against Duquesne in a 2-0 win last Tuesday, Oct. 17 and against Duke.
Souza played the past four seasons at Marshall before arriving at Pitt as a graduate transfer after the 2022 season. The Brazilian saw great success with Marshall, making four NCAA Tournament appearances and winning the National Title in the COVID-19 impacted 2020-21 season.
He has played in 10 matches this season and started four of five from the middle of September until the Duquesne game, where he suffered an injury that kept him out against Duke. His best match this season came in a 3-1 victory against then ranked No. 19 Denver at home on Sept. 25, where he scored two goals in the first 14 minutes of play.
Lefebvre made much more of an impact for Pitt men’s soccer this season, that what anyone thought he might do. The Frenchman played in just four matches in 2022 for a total of 19 minutes, but has played a crucial role for Pitt in 2023.
He made 11 straight appearances and nine consecutive starts, from early September to the middle of October, when he suffered an injury against Virginia on Oct. 13 that kept him out of the past two matches. The midfielder featured at centre-back, alongside Gilman, and despite some initial troubles, built a great relationship together to hold three clean sheets and four wins over that time.
“Both are very, very good players,” Gilman said on Grau and Lefebvre. “Both bring their own quality of assets to the team. Fabi is a big force in the back and wins a lot of big tackles. Both are very good on the ball and win good duels in the box against strikers. Both bring good pieces to the squad and do well on the field.”
Pitt also honored former head coach Joe Luxbacher prior to kickoff, as he earned his enshrinement into the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame in the Class of 2023.
Luxbacher played for Pitt men’s soccer from 1970-73 and served as the Pitt men’s soccer head coach for 32 seasons from 1984-2015. He holds the program record for most goals scored in a game with seven against Edinboro in 1971, points in a game with 15, career goals with 37 and is tied for most career points with 84. He has a program-record 224 wins as head coach and earned Big East Coach of the Year honors twice.
Vidovich said it was an important moment for the program to have Luxbacher back and to honor him in person. He also spoke at length the importance of his seniors in their final regular season game at home.
“Senior night is a sad happy,” Vidovich said. “Someone like Filip, who’s been here for four years and what a growth and how much he’s given to the program. Then you have the three other individuals too. Joao and Mathys, who were unable to suit up today. Same thing in their own way. Joao has been a super sub and starter and versatile player for us and wherever we’ve needed him, he’s gotten the job done. Mathys, is a great story. From not playing at all last year to then a starter this whole year, filling in. Fabian, same thing. We haven’t had him that long. The poor guy to start the season, to not get the nod, and then these past two games, he’s stepped up and kept two clean sheets, which is a really fantastic statement. So, very proud of those guys and I just hope we can give them another game at home the other two can contest.”
Pitt men’s soccer finishes the regular season with a match on the road against No. 5 Notre Dame, before playing in the ACC Tournament next week and then, potentially, the NCAA Tournament in the middle of November.