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Brandon Hackenberg A Bright Spot In Penn State Men’s Soccer Loss To Pitt

Penn State men’s soccer lost to No. 15 Pitt on Monday by a narrow 1-0 decision. The Nittany Lions were outplayed for large stretches of the match, but there were certainly positives to take away from arguably their toughest fixture of the regular season.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Penn State head coach Jeff Cook said. “There was one mistake on our part, and that gave Pitt a lot of momentum. At the end of the first half, we got a good foothold on the game.”

Pitt won the game in the sixth minute. A defensive breakdown from Penn State saw Jasper Loeffelsend send a nice cut back into the middle that Rodrigo Almeida cooly slotted into the bottom corner.

Following the goal, the Nittany Lions had a tough time getting on the front foot. Pitt crowded the midfield and stifled the likes of Liam Butts and Danny Bloyou up top.

What is the consistent bright spot? Center back Brandon Hackenberg.

Hackenberg, now in his fifth year at Penn State, shone for the Nittany Lions in classic center-back fashion. He didn’t jump off the stat sheet, nor was he the most notable player on the field. However, his composure in the back is what kept Penn State in the match when it appeared as if the Panthers could double, or even triple, their lead.

“Defensively, [Brandon] was really strong,” Cook said. “When you’re pressing to get a goal back against a really good team, you do give some space up at the back. Tonight, Brandon came up huge in a few moments.”

Cook said he was pleased with the way his team rebounded in the second half after a shaky first 45. At the half, he called for the team to be braver and control the ball more, and despite the loss, he saw tangible improvement.

“I think we took the ball under pressure, our running off the ball was much improved,” Cook said of the second half. “I think there was a lot of progress made.”

The chance never came from Penn State, but Hackenberg made sure it remained within reach. Other defenders Femi Awodesu, Adam Laundree, and Tyger Evans all had moments of concern, but the captain remained rock solid.

His performance was punctuated with one highlight-reel play in the 83rd minute. Pushing for an equalizer as the clock wound down, the Nittany Lions were caught out on a Pitt break. In what surely looked like a second for the Panthers, a last-ditch Hackenberg slide kept Penn State’s hopes alive, subsequently hyping up the crowd.

“Once it goes to 2-0, it becomes really difficult,” Cook said. “I thought, even deep into the last minute of the game we were pressuring to get an equalizer. He was a very key part in that.”

If it weren’t for the pandemic, Hackenberg would’ve been playing in the MLS by now for Orlando City SC. However, he’s come back to Penn State and been a rock at the back of Cook’s already-experienced group. Hackenberg simply cannot be out of the lineup if the Nittany Lions want to pose another run this fall.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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