PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh women’s team brimmed with confidence a few weeks ago after clocking up its first Atlantic Coast Conference wins at Syracuse and North Carolina State.
A string of defeats to highly ranked Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida State has since dropped the Panthers to 12th place in the 14-team ACC with a 2-5-0 conference record (6-9-0 overall).
Louisville is the next opponent for the Panthers Thursday night at Ambrose Urbanic Field. A first home win in ACC history would move Pittsburgh above the Cardinals (6-7-2, 2-3-2 ACC) and into a respectable mid-table position with two games remaining. Clemson come to Western Pennsylvania on Sunday before Pitt’s regular season ends at Virginia on Nov. 1.
“I’m glad that difficult stretch of the season is over,” Pitt head coach Greg Miller told The Soccer Observer after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat by Florida State.
The loss to the No. 2 ranked Seminoles was an excruciating experience with the game played almost entirely within Pittsburgh’s defensive third. Florida State registered 31 goal attempts while calmly dictating the play, waiting for the dynamic movement of its forward players to eventually pull the Panthers’ packed defense out of shape. Pitt had no forward outlet when it did win the ball and frequently conceded possession within two or three passes. It was little wonder that the Panthers failed to take a single shot.
“It’s a different beast when you’re playing these guys,” Miller conceded. “They’re methodical, patient, their movement is very good, they have experience in dealing with teams that want to sit back, and they problem solve very well.”
Florida State’s players were also taller, stronger, faster and more skilled than Miller’s side in general. All things considered, the plucky Panthers did a decent job of keeping the score down particularly with captain Jackie Poucel unavailable at the heart of defense.
The major source of defiance was an exceptional display by sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Francis. The Cary, North Carolina native had faced down a barrage a week earlier when she returned to the Research Triangle for Pitt’s 2-1 loss at the Tarheels. She surpassed that effort with a series of phenomenal saves to frustrate the Seminoles attack.
Icelandic national team star Dagny Brynjarsdottir looked certain to open the scoring after 26 dominant minutes when she found space on the right of the penalty area and drilled her shot toward the far corner. Francis extended her 5-foot-6-inch frame to its fullest to make a magnificent diving stop.
Francis made another great save from the resultant corner kick before Marta Bakowska-Mathews hoisted an inviting cross to the back post that Brynjarsdottir nodded home from close range.
The game was effectively over once Pittsburgh’s defense had been breached. Francis theoretically kept it alive as a contest with another brilliant stop to beat away a Bakowska-Mathews penalty kick before the interval. Cheyna Williams and Kacy Scarpa added further goals in the second half while Francis continued her excellence to match a Pittsburgh school record of 16 saves.
Poucel should return to Pitt’s starting line-up Thursday against Louisville after Miller said she had been nursing an injury last week.
“No game is easy, but we’ve got a better chance in these next couple of home games,” the third-year Pitt head coach said.
“We’re focused now on getting three points against Louisville and seeing if we can jump up the standings.”
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