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Pitt Falls to James Madison, 3-2, in First Round of NCAA Tournament

Pitt men's soccer
Photo courtesy Pitt Athletics

PITTSBURGH — Pitt men’s soccer kept it close throughout with James Madison, but a second half goal and a red card led to a 3-2 loss Thursday night at Ambrose Urbanic Field in the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers (6-7-4) lose in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the eight seasons that Jay Vidovich  has served at the helm. It also ends a streak of three consecutive Elite Eights and the first season under .500 for the Panthers since 2018. This is the third loss to the Dukes (9-4-5) in the all-time series, with the Dukes winning all three matches.

James Madison opened up the scoring in the 12th minute, taking advantage of some poor passing from Pitt out of the back. Sophomore goalkeeper Cabral Carter tried to chip his pass, but it ended up right at redshirt junior midfielder Alex Krakowiak, who took it first time and hit it into the net for the goal.

The Panthers responded four minutes later to tie the match at 1-1. Graduate student midfielder Joao Souza found junior midfielder Michael Sullivan in the box with a great cross, who dove to put in a powerful header for his first goal of 2023.

James Madison would retake the lead off of more Pitt defensive errors just two minutes later. After a collision between Pitt defenders at the halfway line, sophomore midfielder Kevin Larsson sent a great through ball for redshirt senior forward Rodrigo Robles. Robles fended off Pitt sophomore defender Jackson Gilman and managed to put his shot past Carter’s outstretched foot in the bottom right hand corner of the net to take a 2-1 lead.

The Panthers once again would level it, just five minutes afterwards in the 23rd minute. Junior midfielder Guilherme Feitosa shot from beyond the box, which Dukes sophomore goalkeeper Sebastian Conlon spilled. Panthers freshman forward Albert Thorsen put himself in great position, got onto the spilled save and placed it past Conlon to tie the match at 2-2.

Pitt junior centre-back Mathys Lefebvre suffered an ankle injury late in the first half, forcing graduate student centre-back Fabian Grau to come in for him.

James Madison once again regained advantage, with another goal in the 57th minute. First-year defender Luca Nikolai displayed some great dribbling, getting around junior left back Mateo Maillefaud and then putting in a pass for Robles, who got in front of sophomore right back Raphael Cilli to tap it into the net at the near post for the 3-2 lead.

The Panthers then made it even harder for themselves, when Gilman received a red card in the 71st minute. After falling behind from a through ball, Gilman took down Dukes redshirt junior forward Evan Southern, denying him of a goal-scoring opportunity.

Neither team would create any real chances the rest of the way, allowing James Madison to take the 3-2 victory and move onto the Second Round to face No. 4 Georgetown on the road on Sunday.

“Anytime you lose your captain, it’s a big loss,” Sullivan said on the Gilman red card. “It hurts us…it’s a game-changing thing, but I don’t think we took advantage to the chances we had after that. I think We still had chances to make the game and make something out of it with 10 men and we fell short on that.”


Vidovich gave credit to James Madison for a great match, but said that the match mirrored much of 2023. Lots of chances, tight matches, but just not getting it done in the end.

“It was kind of a snapshot of our season, Vidovich said. Very very close, but just not enough.”

Vidovich also expanded on the red card, mentioning the loss of Lefebvre and having to use Feitosa and Sullivan at centre-back to defend following the red card.

“…They did a great job of staying in the game and doing their job and had a couple of chances that could’ve gone our way. So, I mean, what a great display by these guys. Man down, two attacking players playing as centre-backs after losing two people there. Great job by the guys.”

James Madison head coach Paul Zazenski complimented Pitt on their performance and the fight they put up, despite the loss. He also gave a lot of credit to his team for staying calm and composed after the flurry of goals in the first half.

“What a great soccer match,” Zazenski said. “We have the utmost respect for Pitt and Jay and their staff and we knew it was going to be a battle and I’m just proud of the whole group who battled tonight and played really well. There was a moment where I was thinking this might be a 6-5 game, but we settled. We weathered the storm, we settled down a little bit and we played a composed second half. So, very, very proud of the guys for their efforts and for getting the win.”

Sullivan played all 90 minutes for the Panthers, scoring the first goal, while also filling in for roles around the pitch when needed. Vidovich loved the effort from Sullivan, but wants to see him make even more of an impact going forward next season.

“Like I told Mikey after the game, what a great way to finish the season and I think there’s a lot more games like that in Mikey,” Vidovich said. “Not only the versatility there and willing to play for the team, but making more of an impact on the game. His defending and the ground he covered for the team today and obviously, what a fantastic goal. So just a great job and I hope he takes that as a starting spot for next year.”

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