Syracuse blanks Pittsburgh, 4-0, to move into ACC tournament quarterfinals
Sam Ogozalek | Staff Writer
For 11 games, Chris Nanco couldn’t find the back of the net. Thirty-two shots. Fifty-five days. Five wins, three losses and three ties. Syracuse’s most potent offensive threat manufactured the chances but just couldn’t convert.
It took a monumental gaffe from Pittsburgh goalkeeper Jacob Rooth for Nanco to finally seize what he’s been waiting all that time for. Just over 10 minutes into the game, Rooth botched a backward pass and his first touch skidded far enough forward for a charging Nanco to get a foot on the ball. It squirted out of the 50-50 challenge and snuck inside the left post before a dashing Rooth could get to the goal line.
“I’ll take anything I can get at this point,” Nanco said.
Nanco had scored in 15 games in his career prior to Wednesday. All 15 times, Syracuse won. In the first round of the ACC tournament, one goal was all the Orange would need, even without defender Miles Robinson due to a red-card-induced, one-game suspension. Fifth-seeded SU (11-3-3, 3-2-3 Atlantic Coast) mauled the 12th-seeded Panthers (2-13-3, 0-6-2), 4-0, at SU Soccer Stadium behind two goals each from Nanco and Jonathan Hagman. Syracuse plays fourth-seeded Clemson on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
“I think we have been struggling scoring goals the past couple games,” Hagman said. “It was good today to score four.”
From the start, Syracuse dominated. Aside from a handful of sloppy ball-handling errors, the Orange kept possession at will. Head coach Ian McIntyre scolded freshman Mo Adams for not running enough. He barked at Kenny Lassiter for not holding the ball up. The mistakes were there, but it didn’t matter against a Panthers team far inferior.
Nanco’s first goal in almost two months may not have come as he expected, but it set the tone for a game that was never in doubt. He repeatedly streaked down the wings and wreaked havoc on a helpless Pittsburgh back line, and it took several heroic efforts from Rooth to prevent an early onslaught from escalating even further.
“That goal typified what Chris brings to our team,” McIntyre said. “Yes, goals, but he got it because of the work ethic and the commitment to close down… It allowed us a platform on which to build and for us to get that second one.”
Ten minutes after Nanco’s first goal, Louis Cross curled a cross-field pass into Nanco’s path on the left wing. Nanco attacked the goal, caused Pitt defender Bryce Cregan to spin around when he cut back inside and Nanco slotted home his second goal of the day and sixth of the season.
The only thing stopping Syracuse may have been the stadium lights, which went out at halftime and stayed that way for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately for the visitors, though, they turned back on and Hagman tacked on his fourth and fifth goals of the season as Syracuse put the nail in the Panthers’ coffin in the latter 45 minutes.
The Orange’s last stint without its best defender, and arguably best player, resulted in its season heading into a temporary tailspin. Losses to Albany and Louisville without Robinson put SU’s place among the nation’s best in jeopardy. But his return to the lineup saw Syracuse go unbeaten in its last four regular season games, three of which came against top-15 teams.
On Wednesday, Robinson’s absence proved no problem thanks to Nanco’s early brace. Syracuse was far superior and Pittsburgh stood no chance. The Orange is moving on, its chance to repeat as ACC tournament champions still alive.
“The last couple weeks, or couple months or whatever, has been kinda hard finding the net,” Nanco said. “We like to press as a team and when we press as a team good things happen.”
Published on November 2, 2016 at 11:08 pm