A new era for USF soccer begins this year as both the men and women’s teams move into a new, soccer-specific stadium.
The Bulls have moved out of the Soccer/Track & Field stadium and into a smaller stadium east of the Athletics building that does not have a running track, allowing fans to be closer to the field than ever before. The men will host the University of Tampa in an exhibition game Tuesday night, while the women will have to wait until Friday night to play their first competitive game in the new stadium.
“I’m very excited,” women’s coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “I think it’s going to be amazing. We’re so excited to have one of the best soccer stadiums in the nation and set the right atmosphere so that when visitors come, they know where they’re coming to, so we can take advantage of what USF has provided for our team.”
Both teams played split-squad scrimmages in the new stadium to help familiarize themselves with their new home. The men played Aug. 15 under the lights before the women took to the field the next afternoon.
Men’s coach George Kiefer said he is excited to move into a top-class facility.
“We can’t wait (to play there),” Kiefer said. “I think when you look at the stadium, it was built for the USF students, as far as getting them close to the field. A lot of thought went into it. It’s exactly what type of stadium you need for a good atmosphere for college soccer.”
With both teams coming off berths in the NCAA Tournament, the caliber of play on the field should match that of the stadium.
For the women’s team, Schilte-Brown said team leadership will be in great supply as a class that has played significant minutes together since its freshman year enters its senior season.
“It’s been an exciting climb for the program, I think, and for us as a coaching staff to kind of watch it grow,” she said. “It’s kind of culminating now with this senior class because they had to play so many minutes as a group – I can’t say there’s many Big East teams that played that many freshmen when they were freshmen.”
The Bulls have important pieces in playmaking midfielder Gina Pacheco and forward Chelsea Klotz, who are back for their final season. Klotz was co-leading scorer for the Bulls last season with 11 goals and was the only Bull picked to the 2011 Preseason All-Big East team. Pacheco has played in 60 games in her USF career.
Despite making a run to the Big East Championship game a year ago and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 win over Auburn, the Bulls were picked to finish fourth in the Big East’s American division.
The story is different for the men’s team as Kiefer attempts to replace five players that were four-year starters in green and gold.
Gone are star players in goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, defender Javed Mohammed and midfielders Shawn Chin and Bernardo Anor. Taking their place is a set of high-profile transfers that will look to keep the program in the rarified air it’s become accustomed to.
To replace Attinella, Kiefer brought in former Michigan net minder Chris Blais, who led the Wolverines to a Final Four appearance last season. Blais won Defensive Player of the Tournament in the Big Ten tournament after a regular season in which he posted a 17-5-3 record, setting a school record for wins in a season.
To replace Chin and Anor in the midfield, Kiefer landed Dom Dwyer, who received the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association National Player of the Year Award while with Tyler Junior College in Texas.
“Last time I checked, (those players) haven’t done anything at South Florida,” Kiefer said. “Blais has proven himself at the Division I level, but all the other new guys, there’s actually a lot of people asking questions about whether they can play at this level, so that’s good for them.”
Only Louisville was picked to finish ahead of the Bulls in the Red division of the Big East.
“When you look where the rest of the country has us, I don’t see us in any polls, I don’t see us ranked anywhere,” Kiefer said. “I feel like the guys need to be aware because, really, not too many people rate this South Florida team. To me, that serves as good motivation. Everybody across America has basically told them that they aren’t good enough. You can either prove that theory true or prove that theory to be false. This team has a strong desire to prove it false.”