Following their low-key season opener against Stetson, the Bulls face a sterner test in their first Conference USA match of 2002 as they host East Carolina Saturday.
While the Bulls were making hard work of seeing off the relatively innocuous Hatters, the Pirates, by contrast, went up against Big Ten opposition and emerged relatively unscathed. Competing in the Scarlet and Gray Classic in Columbus, Ohio, the Pirates went down 2-0 to tourney hosts Ohio State and were outgunned 4-2 by Penn State. USF coach George Kiefer conceded the Bulls’ performance in their 1-0 victory over Stetson would not suffice against the team ranked seven places below them in the C-USA coaches’ poll.
“If we play the way we played Saturday night we’ll take a loss, so we have to pick our game up a bit,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer said the Pirates’ performances against Ohio and Penn State were noteworthy, but he was not unduly worried that East Carolina’s schedule against such renowned programs would give them an advantage come kickoff.
“I think our guys will be able to match their intensity, but I give them credit for how close they kept it against two ranked opponents,” he said.
The Bulls go into the match with no injury worries, although Kiefer will be without the services of Ben Cowherd, who serves a one-match suspension as a consequence of his dismissal against Stetson. Kiefer said practice since the Stetson match had focused on giving opposition less time on the ball and on varying their options in attack.
“We’ve been working on ways to get more aggressive on defense, to put more pressure on the ball – to have more patience and know when to switch things in attack,” Kiefer said.
The Pirates return their four top scorers from last season, giving the Bulls’ defense an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with Joe Ellington, whose seven goals and three assists made him East Carolina’s leading scorer.
Goalkeeper R.J. Marvinney’s six shutouts, the third highest in the league, emphasize the strength of the Pirates’ defensive unit under head coach Devlin O’Neill, now in his fourth season.
Last season’s 1-0 road victory for the Bulls was the first meeting between the teams in 19 years, and, with the Bulls also victorious in their 1982 encounter, a win for the Bulls would maintain their perfect record against East Carolina.
Chris O’Donnell covers men’s soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org