The USF mens soccer team may have entered their bid for the best moment of the fall sports season one game into their regular season.
With the second largest crowd of 3,076 on hand in Corbett Soccer Stadium history Friday, along with a national television spot on Fox Soccer Channel, the Bulls made their mark with a 2-1 win over the Michigan Wolverines, a team just two years removed from a trip to the NCAA Mens Soccer Final Four.
Our fans are always providing us energy, and they get the team going, said junior midfielder Leston Paul. The more energy, the more the guys play better.
The stadiums east and west berms were filled with fans decked out in green and gold as the two teams kicked off their respective seasons, filled with high expectations, the sky fading to pink from the sunset.
The scene on the field, however, was even better than the view of the sky.
USF came out aggressive from the first touch, attacking into the Michigan half, setting up camp and peppering Wolverine keeper Adam Grinwis. The Bulls almost sent the raucous crowd into a daze in the second minute, when a shot from the foot of Paul rocketed off therossbar, barely missing on a quick strike goal.
I thought we did very well and created a lot of chances early on, coach George Kiefer said. I thought the goal was coming early in the first five minutes, we hit the bar and we missed wide a couple of times.
Dominance of possession was the story of the first half for the Bulls, a period in which they outshot Michigan 6-1. Their offensive execution had been mostly in vain, as the score was still knotted at zero when the second half began.
The Wolverines showed a quick strike capablity of their own, when Dylan Mencia knocked in his first goal of the season as fans were settling back into their seats after the half. One minute into the second half, the regular-season stadium record crowd had been stunned.
The Bulls, much like their home crowd, refused to stand down.
We knew we had to remain patient, know that we have time, remained focused and keep helping each other out, Paul said.
With their home crowd gaining confidence with each run to the goal, and the team building attack after attack, the Bulls finally broke through in the 64th minute, with Brenton Griffths tapping a shot into the net after a flurry of shots on goal, setting the crowd, quite literally, on fire.
Following the equalizer, the fans let off their trademark smoke bombs, filling the night sky with a thick layer of smoke.
I give a lot of the credit to the crowd, they had gotten a goal, an unfortunate goal, but after we scored the first goal, the energy in that crowd, I knew the second goal was coming and that it was coming fast, Keifer said.
Fast may have been an understatement, as the Bulls were handed a penalty kick opportunity 44 seconds later. With the berm behind the keeper on its feet, Leston Paul took his penalty to the left, bouncing into thehands of the diving keeper, followed by a rebound to the feet of junior Tampa native Ben Sweat, who finished the goal and put the Bulls ahead for good.
Sometimes you mess up, and the good thing about it is you have great teammates that are always there to help me, Paul said.
The Bulls have started the season with an attention grabbing 2-1 win for the second consecutive year, after taking down No. 13 ranked Wake For- est on the road last season. The theme of the 2012 campaign, according to Kiefer, will be their work as a team.
I thought we showed a lot of maturity, the leadership was good, the communication was very good, I heard them all telling each other to keep playing, Keifer said, To start the season off with a W is really big, es- pecially against a skilled Big Ten team. We had to do a good job battling, especially our bench, even when there was a time in that game where we only had two of our starting back four out there. A good team win for us.
USF will now head to Tulsa, Okla., this weekend for the Hur- ricane Classic, where they will match up with Southern Methodist on Friday at 4 p.m. and host Tulsa on Sunday at 8 p.m.