Jackson Gilman has had a whirlwind of a 2022, spending the early part of the year playing in MLS Next Pro with Philadelphia Union II before graduating from high school and transitioning to college soccer at Pitt.
Tonight, the college rookie from Schwenksville, Pa. has a chance to extend his 2022 for one more game in a rematch against Indiana of a College Cup semifinal he watched from home two years ago.
When the match-up was finalized with wins by Pitt over Portland and Indiana over UNC Greensboro, it guaranteed there would be a YSC Academy grad playing for a national title. The question tonight is whether that will be a fifth-year college senior in Nyk Sessock or the rookie Gilman.
“It seems like every year there’s someone from YSC playing on the big stage here, which I think just shows what a great organization and staff Philly has,” Gilman said in a phone interview.
Gilman was just an eighth grader at YSC when Sessock was a senior but the connection runs a little deeper since Sessock spent his first two years of college at Pitt before transferring to Indiana. Sessock opted to return for one final season to try and go out with a title.
To do so he’ll need to get past a Panthers team looking to avenge that 2020 semifinal loss. Indiana that year went on to fall to Marshall in the final. The Hoosiers lost in overtime in the final against Stanford at Subaru Park in 2017 and the eight-time champions last won it in 2012.
Pittsburgh has never made it to a final.
For Gilman, the deep run in the tournament has only confirmed why he was attracted to the school in the first place.
“I think the staff really does a good job every single day with film and with training and with recovery, to really set us up for success,” Gilman said. “It’s very professional in my eyes.”
The transition for Gilman started in the summer when he left Philadelphia Union II to get a head start on readying for his first season in the ACC. Gilman logged 494 official minutes for Union II in the early part of their first MLS Next Pro campaign in addition to a number of preseason friendlies and has been a mainstay in defense for the Panthers in his first season.
He’s played all but 28 minutes this season, logging 1902 minutes in 21 starts.
“I had my ups and downs with the second team because jumping from academy to a professional organization can be tough,” he said. “So at the beginning, there were some roller coaster moments, but you know, it helped me to just mature and realize the tough moments are just there to help you learn. And I think that really helped me coming into here because, you know, I came in confident and playing well.”
Pitt’s defense has conceded just 21 goals in 21 games this season — quite a feat playing in the ACC — and just twice in their four tournament wins. Gilman’s play has been instrumental in that and he’ll be counted on to help stymie the Hoosier attack tonight.
That Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich has put so much faith in the rookie defender is a direct result of the hard work Gilman has been putting in since he was a young kid playing for West-Mont United.
“I’m not the flashiest player but every day I come in and give 110 percent,” Gilman said. “And I keep adding to my game and strengthening my strengths.”
That approach was one that first earned Gilman the attention of the Union Academy staff when he was at a summer camp at YSC Sports. Gilman recalls getting the attention of coach Iain Munro and the opportunity that led to a Union Juniors invite and eventually to him joining the academy and enrolling in the school as an eighth grader.
“I’m just thankful to him for giving me that opportunity,” Gilman said of Munroe, who has since retired from the academy. “And for all the coaches at the Union who pushed me every single day. Without those opportunities and the people in my past I can’t say that I’d be in this position now.”
Tonight’s Pitt vs Indiana game is slated for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff in Cary, N.C. It will be broadcast live on ESPNU and ESPN+. The earlier game, slated for a 6 p.m. kickoff, will feature Syracuse and Creighton.