Pietrangelo Shines In Unexpected Starting Slot For Pitt Panthers

Written by Ian Thomson

PITTSBURGH – Emily Pietrangelo’s recent promotion to the Pittsburgh women’s starting line-up has coincided with an uptick in the Panthers’ form.

Pitt’s 15-game losing streak since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference ended on Sept. 28 with a 1-0 win at Syracuse that was quickly followed by another road victory at North Carolina State.

It would be a stretch to attribute Pittsburgh’s improvement solely to the former Canadian U-17 national team forward, but Pietrangelo has played a major role during the past month in a position that was previously alien to her – as a full-back.

“There’s a lot of learning to be done,” Pietrangelo told The Soccer Observer after Pitt’s 2-0 loss to Notre Dame on Thursday. “But it makes me a more versatile player and I’m excited to be getting minutes.”

Pietrangelo (right) keeps Notre Dame's Karin Muya at bay during Pitt's 2-0 loss on Oct. 9 (Photo: Ian Thomson).
Pietrangelo (right) keeps Notre Dame’s Karin Muya at bay during Pitt’s 2-0 loss on Oct. 9 (Photo: Ian Thomson).

Pietrangelo’s first brush with the back line came after 29 minutes of Pittsburgh’s defeat by Virginia Commonwealth at Ambrose Urbanic Field on Sept. 12. The Panthers had leaked an early goal and looked unstable defensively when head coach Greg Miller thrust his 19-year-old sophomore on at right-back. Pietrangelo may never have previously played as a defender, but her speed and ability to read the opposing winger’s intentions quickly shut down VCU’s attacks.

Duke had taken an early 3-goal lead at Pitt the following week when Miller again turned to Pietrangelo to choke off the Blue Devils’ ample supply from wide areas. Her reward for another sound display was a first career start at Boston College on Sept. 25. Pietrangelo has since been on the field for all but 13 minutes of play over four games.

“She’s learning on the fly,” Miller told The Soccer Observer. “Due to injuries at the back and moving some people around she became the next best option.

“Emily is a real student of the game. She asks a lot of questions and tries to absorb as much as she can. She’s doing a great job for not having a lot of experience back there.”

Pietrangelo’s rapid transition has been aided by Miller’s analogy about soccer being a mirror. Things that attacking players try to exploit when they run at defenders are the same things that defenders must guard against when confronted by an attacker – learning how to handle 1-vs-1 situations, when to step up and when to drop deep.

Miller is also keen to see Pietrangelo using her natural ability to get forward when the moment is right. That is a tough ask for a young player stationed in unfamiliar territory, but the Toronto native managed to register a couple of shots against Boston College and swung in a few dangerous crosses in the second half against Notre Dame.

Thursday’s reverse against the Fighting Irish ended the Panthers’ two-game winning run in the ACC, but there were still plenty of positives that Pietrangelo took from the performance compared to last year’s 3-0 drubbing at South Bend.

“We were really desperate last year,” Pietrangelo said. “We just wanted to get the ball out whereas tonight we were connecting passes and getting stuck into tackles.

“It all comes down to brief moments, and they capitalized on theirs.

“But our passing is getting better. Our accuracy is getting better. We’re coming together as a team, and wherever I’m needed I’m up for the challenge.”

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Sept. 16, 2014 — Pitt Women Set To Resume Fight For First ACC Point

Sept. 12, 2014 — SLIDESHOW: Pittsburgh Women 0 Virginia Commonwealth 1

Aug. 16, 2014 — McHugh Penalty Steers Pitt Women To Win Over Central Michigan