PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh women’s soccer team (4-4) kicks off its second season of Atlantic Coast Conference play this weekend in the same manner as last year – looking for its first point in the college game’s toughest division.
Pitt endured a brutal ACC debut with 13 straight losses including a 6-3 thrashing at Duke last October. The Panthers meet the Blue Devils again Friday at Ambrose Urbanic Field on the back of two consecutive single-goal losses that leave them needing to refine their game plan and raise their commitment during the 90 minutes.
“When we’re down, we don’t react like we should,” senior defender Riliegh McHugh told The Soccer Observer after last Friday’s home loss to Virginia Commonwealth.
“We reacted in the last 15 minutes, but I wish we could have that heart all the time.”
It took over an hour for Pittsburgh to signal its attacking intent against a VCU side that broke through via Sharon Wojcik’s header on 22 minutes. McHugh pushed forward in the closing stages as Panthers head coach Greg Miller changed to three at the back, and a late flurry of corner kicks almost brought an equalizer. Hanna Hannesdottir dragged Pitt’s best chance narrowly past the far post when a loose ball dropped to her inside a crowded penalty box.
VCU had outshot the hosts 11-2 in the first half before the Panthers gradually upped the tempo. Too many moves in the first half broke down through cheap turnovers, leaving McHugh and center-back partner Jackie Poucel open to counter attacks.
“They’re putting out a lot of fires,” Miller told The Soccer Observer. “To use a baseball analogy, it makes things harder when you don’t have the hitting to bail out great pitching.”
Miller’s roster is among the youngest in the college game with 15 freshmen (including three redshirts), eight sophomores, two juniors and three seniors. On Friday, the halfway line seemed to demarcate a psychological barrier that induced tentativeness in the minds of his wide players when they crossed it.
A willingness to run at the opposing full-backs did not exist. The vision to pick out striker Taylor Pryce’s probing runs was clouded, and the calmness to recycle play back through the defense was absent. One of Miller’s key tasks on the training field this week is to encourage his wide players with their decision-making.
“All we can do is continue to help them to make better choices,” said the third-year head coach. “We’re not quite there yet.”
Duke’s visit carries additional importance for the Panthers as it is followed by three road games. A strong start is imperative against a Blue Devils side that also holds a 4-4 record from non-conference play.
“It’s all I’m going to be thinking about this whole week,” McHugh said. “Wake up: think of Duke. Go to sleep: think of Duke.
“They’re way more skilled than us, but it doesn’t matter. We’ve all lost games against weaker teams because they had the heart.
“That’s what I want this team to be like.”
Sept. 12, 2014 — SLIDESHOW: Pittsburgh Women 0 Virginia Commonwealth 1
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