The USF men’s soccer team’s match Sunday against Conference USA rival Texas Christian resembled the Bulls’ previous outing – vs. Central Florida on Wednesday – in more than one way.
For the second consecutive match, USF played most of the time with 10 men and the final score was 3-1. But there was one important difference – USF won.
The Bulls (13-4, 6-2 in C-USA) withstood the loss of junior Brian Mullins in the 25th minute to win their first-ever meeting with the Horned Frogs, thanks to two goals from forward Jason Cudjoe and a strike from midfielder Kevin Cowan. Mullins was ejected for a retaliatory head-butt on TCU’s Michael Blackburn.
“From that last game (vs. UCF), we know we made a couple of mistakes, things that we looked back upon,” Cudjoe said.
“Coming into this game, going down (to) 10 men, we knew how to take care of it.”
USF dominated possession early and created a few opportunites, most notably a shot by Matt Cavenaugh from close range that hit the crossbar in the 14th minute. At the 14:30 mark, Mullins whipped in a cross from the right flank, and while the ball just eluded Cudjoe, Cowan was there on the back post to open the scoring.
“That was the most important thing, that we started well,” said USF coach John Hackworth. “We did that, and we did what we said we were going to do all through practice this week, and pre-game (Sunday) morning.”
TCU (5-9-1, 2-5 in C-USA) got even a mere seven minutes later, when forward Bobby Montes capitalized on a shot by Blackburn that goalkeeper Troy Perkins did not save cleanly. Montes slid the ball past Perkins from about 10 yards out.
Mullins received his red card less than four minutes later, and the complexion of the match began to change with the Horned Frogs pushing forward more.
“(We) had to play twice as hard because once they scored the first goal and then Mullins got a red card, it was like the momentum started shifting,” said Cowan.
But USF managed to absorb the pressure and nearly went ahead in the 40th minute, as Cudjoe worked his way into the TCU penalty area and shot from point-blank range. However, his off-balance shot hit the post.
“I was disappointed at that moment in time, but I figured I needed to get my head back into the game and help lead this team,” Cudjoe said.
Cudjoe made amends in the 42nd minute, putting the Bulls ahead for good. On a breakaway, Cudjoe got behind the TCU defenders and had his first shot blocked by goalkeeper Michael Lahoud. However, Lahoud did not hold on, and Cudjoe put in the rebound.
The score remained 2-1 at halftime, and the second half was fairly evenly contested, with neither squad able to score again until Cudjoe got his 10th goal of the season with a minute and 41 seconds left. USF was back in a defensive stance when the ball was driven up the left flank. Defender Joe Valencia outran a TCU defender to win the ball and passed back to the center where Cudjoe was streaking forward. Cudjoe sidestepped the goalkeeper and dribbled into the empty net.
“Playing shorthanded is always difficult, but we came together as a team,” Cudjoe said. “We just focused on our goal, which was pretty much to defend in a smart way. And we accomplished that.”Mullins will serve his third suspension of the season Wednesday against Marquette. He also sat out the UCF match because of accumulated yellow cards and was suspended previously for a red card at Saint Louis Oct. 20.
“It (the head butt) was a very poor decision on his part, especially at that point in the game,” Hackworth said.
The Bulls started without central defender Jared Vock, who was sent off vs. UCF. Ben Cowherd started in his place and received high marks from Hackworth. After Mullin’s departure, Cavenaugh moved to right back, earning a rating of “stellar” from Hackworth.
“It was a tough game, but this is the time of the season when you really know what kind of team you have,” said Cowan. “And I know for a fact that we have an overall team. There’s no weak link on this team.”
- Khari Williams covers men’s soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org