The No. 3 Pitt men’s soccer team faced Monmouth in its first match of the 2021 NCAA tournament at MacPherson Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Sunday night, and despite a solid start from the Hawks, the Panthers routed the MAAC team 6-1.
Monmouth, which was coming off a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over Bowling Green in the opening round of the tournament, was able to stifle Pitt early in the game. However, in the 25th minute, Raphael Crivello lofted a pass from midfield that found Valentin Noel in the box. Noel then popped a shot over Monmouth goalkeeper Sean Murray and into the back right corner of the net to give Pitt a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers’ advantage would grow before the halftime break, as Bryce Washington headed in a well-placed corner kick from Veljko Petkovic in the 39th minute. And Pitt was inches away from bringing a 3-0 lead into the break, as Petkovic rang a shot off the crossbar with just under two minutes left to play. However, the Panthers would have to wait until the second half to run up the score.
In the final 45 minutes, the floodgates opened, as Pitt tacked on four more goals against a clearly overmatched Monmouth squad. The first came off the foot of Alexander Dexter, who chipped in a loose ball following another Petkovic corner kick in the 52nd minute. Five minutes later, Bertin Jacquesson knocked in a shot by way of Monmouth midfielder George Akampeke's foot to put Pitt up 4-0.
That would not be all, though, as Jasper Löeffelsend tapped a quick pass into the box for Rodrigo Almeida, which Almeida sent into the back of the net in the 71st minute for the Panthers’ fifth goal of the night. That goal was the first of the season for Almeida, but it would not go unanswered, as Monmouth forward Julian Gomez put away a penalty kick in the 77th minute to bring the score to 5-1, Pitt.
Gomez would not be on the pitch much longer, as he was shown a red card in the 87th minute after attempting a bicycle kick and apparently connecting with Washington’s jaw in the Pitt box. And 11 minutes after Gomez's penalty kick beat Nico Campuzano, Sito Sena returned the favor on a penalty kick of his own to bring the final score to 6-1 in the Panthers’ favor.
“It was a good win tonight,” Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich said after the game. “Going in, I think we were a bit tentative and nervous, and the difference was that Monmouth had already experienced the tension and nerves of a game that is do or die. But I think after a little bit we played our way into the game, we competed and defended as a group.”
With the win, Pitt advances to the Sweet 16, where it will face No. 18 UCF. This season, the Knights have gone 9-3-1, and their most recent victory, a close 2-1 affair, came over No. 17 James Madison on Sunday. As for Pitt, it will bring with it into the Sweet 16 the No. 3 goal scorer in the nation, as Noel’s game-opening goal was his 12th of the year. Only Gloire Amanda of Oregon State and M.D. Myers of High Point have scored more this season. Kickoff for the Sweet 16 matchup between Pitt and UCF is set for Thursday at 3 p.m.