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Pitt men's soccer coach Jay Vidovich enters next phase of rebuilding

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 8:24 p.m.
PITTSBURGH, PA, AUG 26: The Pitt men's soccer team hosts Detroit at Ambrose Urbanic Field in the Petersen Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 26, 2016.
Photographer: Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics
Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics
PITTSBURGH, PA, AUG 26: The Pitt men's soccer team hosts Detroit at Ambrose Urbanic Field in the Petersen Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 26, 2016. Photographer: Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics

Jay Vidovich has been the head men's soccer coach at Pitt for less than two years, but he understands what it was like for his predecessor, Joe Luxbacher.

"Coach had to deal with a lot of different things," Vidovich said. "Soccer was put off to the side and neglected (by previous Pitt administrations). Coach was in a no-win situation.

"Then, he was taken from that situation in the Big East and thrown into the ACC. That's being put out in the ocean without a life raft and then putting bricks on your shoulder. It wasn't helpful."

Results over the past six seasons — the most recent four in the powerful ACC — show with black-and-white certainty that Vidovich's rebuilding job won't be easy. Pitt hasn't won a conference game since a 2-0 victory against Seton Hall of the Big East on Oct. 8, 2011. If you insist on counting them up, that's 49 conference games in a row (0-42-7).

To start this season, Pitt will play an exhibition game Sunday at American in Washington D.C., and another next Saturday at home against VCU. The regular season begins Aug. 25 at Ohio State.

Vidovich is just brash enough to think he can change the culture at Pitt. His resume not only indicates it's possible, but suggests it's only a matter of time.

Perhaps former athletic director Scott Barnes' most enlightened hire in his brief Pitt tenure, Vidovich turned Wake Forest into a national powerhouse over 21 seasons, compiling an overall 272-121-50 record with 13 NCAA Tournament berths and the 2007 national championship in his final 14 seasons.

"We were looking for an impact hire to change the culture and trajectory of the program," Barnes said before he left for Oregon State. "Jay is, without question, that individual."

Vidovich spent the 2015 season coaching Portland Timbers 2 in the United Soccer League before Barnes hired him in December of that year.

"It didn't work out where I was, and the opportunity was here," he said.

Pitt is starting to take soccer seriously. There are two full-time assistants — doubling Luxbacher's staff — plus a volunteer coach and an administrative assistant. Six-year-old Ambrose Urbanic Field sports lights and "the best FieldTurf I've been on," Vidovich said.

"We are still behind the other ACC (teams)," he said. "They will have an operations guy, volunteer, analytics person and on and on.

"We have a new administration now coming in. We'll see where soccer is there. I'm hoping we can impress, and that it's something they want to support."

The team's former home, Founders Field in Cheswick, is 19 miles from Oakland and offered a unique advantage.

"UConn and Notre Dame hated to play at Founders Field," Vidovich said. "They told stories that you could lose a player in one of the potholes there."

Vidovich admits rebuilding at Pitt is "a major, major task."

"It's coming into the ACC at the bottom. It's the top soccer conference in America where 9 of 12 of us can be in the top 10 in the country."

Since 2001, five ACC teams have won the national championship eight times — Virginia, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland (before it joined the Big Ten).

"We're making progress," said Vidovich, who was 2-13-3 in his first Pitt season last year. "The way we work, the support staff, the players we've been bringing in. The talent level is increasing there. The boys who are here are buying in as well.

"It looks like soccer. After a year of being with them, they have improved immensely. Team culture is much better. There is a bit of optimism when they walk into the locker room."

Vidovich said his players have an opportunity to make history.

"You have a chance to not only play in the ACC, but be the team that got the first win in the ACC," he said, reciting his recruiting pitch.

His most important recruit is Clemson graduate transfer Mauriq Hill, a defender who has been to the soccer final four and won an ACC championship.

"He can outjump anybody on our team and can catch anybody trying to get by him," Vidovich said.

Hill played at Monteverde (Fla.) Academy, a high school soccer power that also produced two 2017 Pitt recruits, central midfielder Fiorre Mane and striker Edward Kizza.

"Fiorre lives to play soccer and will be a major influence in the evolution of our team culture here at Pitt," Vidovich said.

Kizza scored 25 goals in 21 games during Monteverde's undefeated national championship season.

"He's one of the smartest strikers I've seen at this level," Pitt's coach said. "Kizza's passion and competitiveness will also play a factor in the growth of our program's soccer culture."

Vidovich admits he can't afford too many misses in recruiting. He's hoping his next class will number between 11 and 13 players.

"It's a lot," he said. "I could have had that big of a class at Wake, for sure. But you also didn't have the same expectations. You were hoping for three or four to make a major impact in the league.

"Here, you are expecting eight or nine of those guys to be significant people in the future of Pitt soccer."

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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