Here is another good Pitt soccer article by Tex. The game will be played at 3pm on Thursday, May 6th. It should be live streamed for free on the North Carolina website.
For the first time in Pitt soccer history, Pitt has reached the land of sugar plum fairies called the Sweet 16. In Pitt’s previous playoff game, they demolished Monmouth 6-1. Six different players scored for Pitt in four different ways. Off a corner kick, off the head, off the foot and a penalty kick. Once the nervousness and rust shook off, the Panthers roared to a resounding victory.
But Thursdays opponent will be a stiffer test. Pitt faces the UCF Knights. A team that won the AAC championship. They are ranked 18 coming off a win against James Madison in the playoffs. This is UCF’s second consecutive trip back to the Sweet 16. They are experienced.
UCF is led by Coach Calebrese who is in his 4th year. He is building the Knights into a solid national power. He, like Pitt’s Coach Jay, loves a good offense. Calebrese’s teams were ranked in the top ten nationally across all major offensive categories prior to this past covid year. However UCF did lose their two time offensive player of the year due to graduation. This year UCF has beaten a good SMU team three times and won over Tulsa in the conference championship.
International players dominate the starting lineup for the Knights much like the Panthers. Euros, South Americans and a few Israelis. There are four players that have scored four or more goals so they have balanced scoring. And their goalkeeper makes 90 percent of his saves which is outstanding. The team seems to turn things on during the second half since their shots and goals increase substantially. This team doesn’t fall asleep at halftime and makes proper adjustments. They are well coached.
Below is what I see are keys for the game for both schools:
UCF keys for the Game
1) stop Valentin Noel. Noel is Pitt’s dynamic Central midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation. The offense goes through him. He is the third highest goal scorer in the nation. If UCF can disrupt his game and throw his timing off, Pitt’s offense will stall down
2) play a defensive and physical game. Clemson showed the soccer world how to stymy Pitt. It was through some very tough defense and physicality. I wouldn’t be surprised if UCF came out in a 5-3-2 formation with a midfielder and defender always around Noel.
3) get a great performance from your keeper. For UCF to have a chance, the Knights have to keep the game close and hope the game goes into overtime or a penalty shootout. UCF doesn’t have the players to run and shoot with the Panthers. UCF can’t afford to get behind early in this game.
Panther Keys for the Game
1) get Noel involved early and often. Pitt has to keep running the offense through him. He will be a marked Frenchman, but Pitt has to find a way to give him the space he needs to be dangerous
2) press and counterattack. A good defense can generate offensive scoring chances. I think this is where Pitt can be successful. A high press could cause some mistakes by UCF that could be quickly capitalized on. Pitt also has the offensive players for quick counterattack’s where it’s difficult for UCF to set up and organize their defense.
3) special teams. Pitt will get its share of corner and free kicks. It needs to cash in on these opportunities. These set plays always have the defense at a disadvantage. Pitt is actually very good at this.
Pitt’s team is loaded with some very skilled offensive players. Pitt has good depth and they are the number 2 seed for a reason. They are legit. This game against UCF will be a sterner test but I expect Pitt to pass it and move on to the quarterfinals with a matchup looming against Washington.
I’m predicting a Pitt lead of 1-0 at halftime. Final score as Pitt 3, UCF 1