Twenty-five shots were taken in Wednesday night’s men’s soccer match between USF and Marquette at the USF Soccer Stadium.
In the end, the only shot that mattered was an 86th-minute penalty kick by Jeff Thwaites that gave USF a 1-0 win. The junior midfielder sent his shot low to the right corner, sending Golden Eagles goalkeeper Adam Ubert diving the wrong way.
Defender Aaron Ortega created the play that led to the penalty when he intercepted a Marquette free kick in his own penalty area and charged downfield on a counterattack. Ortega ran all the way into the opposing 18-yard box, where he was pushed down from behind by a defender.
“I tried to play it in to Gaby (Salgado), and it looked like he got a foot to it. It ricocheted off someone, came right back to me and I was still running towards goal,” Ortega said. “So I just took a couple of touches and I felt some pressure from behind. I knew I was in the box, and I knew this (referee) had been calling weak fouls all day.
“So I knew if this guy touches me from behind and I’m in the box and I go down, he’s going to call it.”
The goal was the fourth penalty kick scored by Thwaites in four attempts this season and his ninth goal of the year. The Bulls (14-4, 7-2 in Conference USA) were unlucky not to have had another penalty kick called in the 40th minute when a Marquette defender appeared to handle the ball on his goal line.
The first half was otherwise uneventful, with the best chance for USF coming in the 27th minute when Salgado back-heeled to Thwaites at the edge of the box, but his shot curved away from the goal and past the post.
In the second half, three minutes before the goal, USF’s leading scorer Jason Cudjoe had an opportunity in front of the Marquette goal, but his header was headed away by a Golden Eagles defender.
“We were winning headers all day in the box, knocking them back in,” Ortega said. “We should have finished one of those, but we got kinda unlucky.”
A minute after the goal, midfielder Matt Cavenaugh had a golden opportunity to make the score 2-0, but his shot rocketed off the crossbar.
Scoring chances for Marquette were few and far between. One of the best came nine minutes into the second half when a header from an indirect free kick went marginally high.
“(Marquette captain) Sean Reti, No. 9, is one of the best attacking players in this conference, and we did a good job of containing him tonight,” said USF coach John Hackworth. “I’m proud of the way the guys played tonight.”
Marquette (9-7-1, 4-5 in C-USA) came into Wednesday’s match needing a win or draw in either of its last two matches to ensure a berth in next week’s C-USA tournament at USF. The Golden Eagles must now win or tie their regular season finale Sunday at home vs. Cincinnati (7-7-3, 4-3-1 in C-USA).
“I’ll say this: I think we deserved that win,” Hackworth said. “We definitely had the more dangerous chances for sure. And we definitely played good soccer, created our chances through good possession, good combination play. I think the team that deserved that one did.
“I give credit to Marquette. They’re a good team. But we played hard tonight and we played good soccer, and that ultimately persevered.”