May 2, 2012
Pitt men's soccer rising junior Alex Harrison has started all but one game over his two year collegiate career. A fixture on the Pitt backline, Harrison was one of 14 underclassmen - sophomores and freshmen - on the Panthers roster last fall. He saw this team grow as the fall campaign closed and watched as that improvement continued this past spring. Harrison has written a brief journal recapping the progress of the young squad. He and his teammates will begin the 59th season of Pitt men's soccer in August.
Entering into the season last fall, we had so much potential and expectation - a class of 10 new players joining the team added to the excitement. We didn't meet our expectations which was disappointing, but I believe this was due to inexperience as we had around 10 losses by one goal. In these games we had chances to score, tie and even win many of those games but we didn't take our chances, which I would attribute to a young team.
The majority of the season, we had six or more freshman starting against Big East teams, which on a positive note is beneficial for the future. Although the last campaign was disappointing one, I still believe that there were many positives to take from it. The whole team battled in every game, against some ranked teams.
One of the highlights despite the outcome was when we played Connecticut, ranked No. 1 in the country at the time. The game was away from home and in front of 5000 spectators and while we ended up losing the game 1-0 to a scrappy goal, I felt we had signs of improvement with - again - six-plus freshmen on the field who played very well. More positives we took from the fall included parts of the game we needed to work on this spring. We lacked a little in front of the goal, keeping the ball and containing more possession. I knew things would only improve as we began to gel as a team.
The spring season was a very successful one. Every player in the locker room was on the same page and ready to go. We conditioned in the (Charles) Cost Center Monday to Friday at 6 a.m. with our strength and conditioning coach, Adam Gentry. Coach had us working extremely hard towards specific soccer related exercises. These exercises included: shuttles, sprints, recovery work, resistance work, and lifting.
We had to wait until March before we could get on the field to face competition. During the games, we saw head coach (Joe) Luxbacher switch up the formations and look at players in different positions. Coach had us working towards keeping better possession and playing out of the back. These tasks were carried out successfully which was very much evident in the later games of the spring season. Although there is still room for improvement, the team has definitely taken a step forward in the right direction.
We played Akron, a consistent top-five team and lost 2-1 in a close battle. We played the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, a pro team playing in the USL, extremely tough and competed until the very end. Many of the freshmen really showed the experience they gained from the fall paid off with very good springs. Ryan Myers scored three goals while Lee Johnston continue his excellent form in the goal, pulling off some outstanding saves most notably against Akron. We also saw sophomore Ryan McKenzie, previously an attacking player, transition to right back where he has made the position his own. The spring was an extremely successful campaign setting us up well for the fall.
Looking Ahead to the Fall
I believe this is the year for Pitt Men's Soccer. We have another big class coming in that is nine strong so far. Like myself, there are few international players hailing from Serbia, Scotland and Puerto Rico and the remainder of the newcomers are academy players, the pinnacle of U.S. club soccer. The coaches have brought in recruits who are very technical players, which will add well to the work ethic and athleticism we already have in place.
The team is going to be much more experienced. With the (rising) sophomores having a year of game experience and with a lot of playing time already in the Big East and my class having now two years of experience. On paper, our team is still extremely young team with just one senior, but still we can now say we are an experienced squad. I think our coaching staff has done a good job in introducing the current players into college soccer with every player on the team starting at least one game.
With the team spirit and talent we contain, I believe that we have what it takes to win our first conference crown in the fall. Time will tell, but we are ready to go!