The Bulls’ opening day win against Stetson was not a game that will linger long in their collective memory, but for freshman Hunter West, it was a game he will cherish.
The Bradenton-born forward, whose 54 goals and 25 assists in his senior high school season saw him named Florida State Player of the Year and earned him All-American honors, scored just 13 minutes into his debut for the Bulls, securing a first career win for new coach George Kiefer.
“It was a great feeling to score my first goal here at USF. I hope there’s many more to come,” West said. “I’m just glad we came out here and won it for (Kiefer).”
Having seen his first attempt on goal two minutes previously cannon off the crossbar, West gleefully seized the chance provided by Kevin Cowan’s low cross from the right. Losing his marker with a run to the near post, West placed the ball past Hatters’ keeper Ian Landrum to open his USF account.
“Kevin Cowan played a nice ball through, and I got a little toe on it. The goalie was going in the other direction, and I slipped it in. It was a good finish,” West said.
West, who earned his starting role thanks to goals in both of the Bulls’ preseason matches, would seem to meet Kiefer’s wish list for a freshman.
“I tell all the guys I don’t want freshmen coming here taking a backseat to anyone,” said Kiefer. “I want them to force me to make tough decisions, and Hunter has forced me to start him.”
West’s strike proved to be all that divided the two teams as the lethargic looking Bulls labored to a 1-0 victory in front of a crowd of 665 under the lights at the USF Soccer Stadium Saturday. The Bulls’ victory was earned despite being hampered by the second half dismissal of Ben Cowherd for violent conduct. In claiming the three points, USF extended its record against the Hatters to 19-4-0. However, the manner of the performance left Kiefer less than satisfied.
“I was not happy with the tempo at all. And I was not happy with the way we pulled off them in the first half and allowed them to develop the game,” said Kiefer. “It’s a step in the right direction in that when we have a bad match we can still get a win.”
The Bulls produced little of note following West’s goal, seeming content to coast the remainder of the first half, although twice in quick succession, Stetson came close to forcing an equalizer.
In the 29th minute, Stetson’s Steve Luppert put wide a shot with Bulls keeper Troy Perkins stranded in the box. A minute later, substitute Brandon Streicher could only watch as his first touch of the match, a sliced attempted clearance, seemed goal-bound. Fortunately for him, the ball grazed the crossbar and sailed harmlessly out for a corner kick.
The Bulls began brighter in the second half, almost increasing their lead when Landrum was forced to make a diving save on a West header. But their rhythm was disrupted in the 62nd minute when referee Shane Moody brandished the red card to Cowherd after the referee’s assistant brought an off-the-ball clash to his attention. Moody later confirmed that he had dismissed Cowherd for violent conduct. The senior will be suspended for the Bulls’ next match against East Carolina. Kiefer said he had not seen the incident, but did not dispute the decision.
“I thought we lacked a little discipline in getting a guy thrown out, and he deserved to be thrown out,” Kiefer said. “That hurts us.”
Stetson briefly rallied with both Matt Groover and Andy Anspaugh coming close to tying the game. In the final 10 minutes, the Bulls made light of being a man down, keeping the Stetson attack at bay and counterattacking to good effect. On one such foray, Gabriel Salgado controlled Jeff Thwaites’ astute cross-field pass before unleashing a rising shot that brought the save of the match from Landrum.
Summing up the match, Kiefer said he was happy with a victory and a shutout in his first game, but said there were still aspects of their game that needed improvement.
“We have to do a better job of possessing the ball and understanding what type of team we are,” he said. “I want to be able to play through the midfield; I want my backs to be able to handle pressure and build the game, and that comes in time. First time out I can’t expect them to get it 100 percent right.”
One spectator in particular was pleased to see the Bulls record their first victory. John Hackworth, an assistant on the U.S. National U-17 team and Kiefer’s predecessor, said the game was a typical season opener, but was nonetheless important in providing Kiefer’s first win.
“I’m real happy for George Kiefer. It’s always hard to get the first one under your belt,” Hackworth said.