For the first time in the program’s history, the USF men’s soccer team has finished the Big East regular season undefeated, grabbing the Bulls’ first outright Red Division title in the process.
After a 22-hour snow delay, the Bulls were ready to play their final regular-season match at Rutgers, showing it with their defense. In a physical, hard-fought matchup, the Bulls managed to win the division by forcing a scoreless draw. The Bulls needed to prevent the Scarlet Knights from picking up three points, and did exactly that.
“That was very important to the guys in the locker room,” USF coach George Kiefer said. “We didn’t want to share (the title). I give Rutgers a lot of credit. They are a good team.”
USF (12-2-3) became just the third team in the last 15 years to finish the Big East regular season undefeated, at 7-0-2 – the best record in either division of the Big East conference. Kiefer said he is proudest of the way his team has approached its conference season.
“Not only do you play tough teams, but you also have to navigate through weather,” he said. “You have to navigate through facilities with (artificial turf). Some fields are narrow, so it’s not just teams you have to play in the Big East, but a lot of other elements that go into it.”
After a weather delay from a scheduled 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday to an 11 a.m. kickoff Monday, both the Bulls and the Scarlet Knights were ready. Despite the fact that both had already clinched a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament, as well as the home game that comes in the second round, both teams were motivated from the opening kick.
Rutgers redshirt junior goalkeeper Kevin McMullen and his four saves, including three that Kiefer said he didn’t expect, were the main reason the Bulls came out with a draw rather than a victory.
“He made three saves in the game where I left the bench thinking we had scored,” he said. “I even had to ask an assistant on two of them how he saved that. I give him a lot of credit for keeping them in it.”
McMullen’s counterpart, Chris Blais, made one save en route to his seventh shutout of the season, a testament to the consistency of the Bulls’ defensive back line.
“We’re not happy we tied the game, but we’ll take it and move on,” Kiefer said.
The Bulls will now enjoy the reward of their efforts, as they have a bye into the conference quarterfinal, and then host a match at the Corbett Soccer Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. The opponent for the match will be either Providence (10-6-1, 5-3-1) or Villanova (6-8-4, 3-5-1).
“It’ll be nice to have more home games,” Kiefer said. “Our home crowd has been great to us, so we hope that they’ll keep supporting the team.”