Preparing to Pounce

The 2015 season for Pitt Women’s Soccer began with Head Coach Greg Miller barking instructions. “Higher! Higher!” he shouted to encourage his girls to press up the field and play a fast-paced style of soccer.

This high-intensity focus shows that Miller is aware that expectations are now attached to this program. Pitt picked up their first ACC victories last season by beating Syracuse and North Carolina State back-to-back on the road. It proved that the Panthers could be competitive in the best soccer conference. Now Miller urges them forward to their next step.

Pitt Women kicked off that next step last weekend in the Steel City Classic at Duquesne University’s Rooney Field. The team impressed with their high-pressure style and produced a barrage of shots on their opponents’ goal. Saint Francis’s German goalkeeper Romina Kunze contributed to a disappointing 1-1 draw however in Pitt’s opener. Kunze recorded 26 saves after the Panthers set a program record with 31 shots on goal, failing to convert those chances into a win.

Those chances came good last Sunday when the Panthers dominated Robert Morris in a 6-0 victory. Miller reaped the rewards of his pressing as his team trapped Robert Morris in their defensive zone for the entire match. The Panthers passed the ball around the midfield quickly and fluidly. Pitt’s well-worked possession kept them in dangerous scoring positions and made the finishing practically automatic. Jarena Harmon found herself in the right spaces and notched a hat trick that started her freshman season in emphatic fashion. Pitt’s total control wasn’t enough though to win the Steel City Classic as Duquesne’s two wins saw them take the title away from their Forbes Avenue rivals.

The Panthers showed clear progress even though they couldn’t repeat as Steel City Classic champions. The biggest storyline going into the season for Pitt was how they were going to replace senior defenders Jaclyn Poucel and Riliegh McHugh who for so long were rock solid in the back line. That transition seams to be flawless so far as their replacements Seyla Perez and captain Siobhan McDonough made the all-tournament team. A fluke Saint Francis goal by Allison LaDuke was the only significant chance to get behind Perez all weekend. McDonough provided versatility in her new position on the right flank by joining the attack while still remaining strong in defense.

Miller also continues to add the talent that will integrate them into the ACC. The four-year head coach built upon a highly touted 2014 recruiting class by bringing in a group of freshmen that have instantly contributed. Harmon and Sarah Krause bring speed to the squad and along with senior Roosa Arvas make a formidable front three. Juliana Vazquez also looks to be a creative presence in the midfield that keeps the team’s fluidity.

Miller has constructed a core of young players that he hopes will close the gap between his team and the ACC powerhouses. This weekend proved that the Panthers are developing fast and prepared to take the challenge awaiting them head on. It won’t be really known if they can meet expectations until September 20th when they open ACC play against North Carolina State.

Debutants Lift Duquesne to Classic Title

Duquesne Women’s Soccer can claim to be the most captivating team of the weekend as well after 2-0 and 3-0 victories against Robert Morris and Saint Francis respectively. Freshmen Katie O’Connor and Kristen Kostopoulous efforts up front carried the Dukes to the tournament trophy on their home soil. The high school All-American O’Connor looks to be a budding star as opposing defenders found it impossible to stop her combination of speed and strength. O’Connor tallied the opening goal in the Robert Morris win and her endless energy pushed her teammate Kostopoulous towards two goals in the decisive result against Saint Francis.CNIMOSuWgAQ0F1t

The newcomers will have their first real collegiate test next Sunday when they battle FIFA Women’s World Cup Young Player Award winner Kadeisha Buchanan and her West Virginia defense in Morgantown.

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Pub Perfect

Pittsburgh’s amateur circuit crowned its champions last Sunday as the GPSL finals took place at La Roche College. In the top flight Premier Division, one team fought to keep their longstanding unblemished streak intact. Tartan Devils FC, the pub team of soccer sanctuary Piper’s, edged the Plum Mustangs 2-1 thanks to an EJ McCormick golden goal in Extra Time. The victory marked back-to-back titles for the club while remaining undefeated throughout it all. These Tartan Devils have built a period of success unmatched in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

“Two years ago was when this squad came together, so it’s been great to be successful throughout that time,” said player-coach Andy Kalas.

Kalas with the help of pub resources constructed a team that could dominate their opponents both technically and physically. “We’ve brought in some new players while having that consistent core that’s played together for years,” said Kalas.

Most members of TDFC competed with each other collegiately and that rapport proved the difference in the Premier Division final. The combination of EJ McCormick and Travis Mackenzie was vital to both goals in the match. McCormick’s cross found Mackenzie, which the former Duquesne midfielder smashed home to open for the Devils in the first half. Mackenzie reciprocated in Extra Time by producing the pass that allowed Pitt alum McCormick to slip through the defense and score the decisive goal.

What adds to this achievement of invincibility is that it’s shared with the tight-knit community that exists around Piper’s Pub. Family and friends provided a cheering section that helped give the Devils the extra energy needed to push for the winning goal. The players welcoming pub godfather Tony Jamie into the team picture was a touching moment that wrapped up the day nicely. Pints will overflow at Piper’s during the trophy celebration on Monday.

The Tartan Devils will look forward to their next challenge once the party ends. The club has already registered for 2016 US Open Cup qualifying with matches beginning in the fall. TDFC will hope to take their local domination onto the national stage. Even after winning back-to-back GPSL titles without a single loss, the best has may yet to come.

Croatian Club Creates Community

In the lower Championship Division, HNK Croatia Pittsburgh defeated Sporting Club of Pgh Enosi 3-2. The Croatian club put on a performance reminiscent of the national team. Midfield creativity opened up chances for some Mandžukić-like finishing by forward Nick Claudio, who netted an impressive hat trick.

11760287_382938348581886_7295420058888734591_nHNK Croatia carries on a proud tradition of Croatian football within the city while wearing the signature red and white checkered jerseys. Pittsburgh boasts a large Croatian population and this club works to unite some of them.

“A lot of us are from all over the area, but this team keeps us together,” said captain Marko Urlić.