Soccer is a game of fine margins, and the USF men’s soccer team learned the hard way Saturday night as it fell 1-0 to UCF in a heated double-overtime match at Corbett Stadium.
“I’m pretty proud of the way the guys played overall,” coach Bob Butehorn said. “I felt like the game was a good game in general. It maybe didn’t have all the moments you want in a good game, but I thought overall it was a very good, competitive game.”
The Bulls were looking to complete a season sweep in the War on I-4 after upsetting nationally ranked UCF (5-3) 2-1 on the road in February.
However, the sweep would not become reality. Those fine margins and 50-50 plays meant a close loss for USF (4-4). Despite the narrow defeat, the game could have turned ugly for the Bulls early on.
UCF created multiple opportunities to take an early lead, hitting the post in the 18th minute and sending a point-blank shot into the Tampa sky 10 minutes later.
Even the two near-misses didn’t wake up the USF offense. The Bulls struggled to control play in the first 45 minutes despite playing in front of raucous home support.
A quick reaction and save from junior goalkeeper Kazuna Takase in the 36th minute kept the Knights off the board. It was the opponents’ third real chance to score, but the score remained equal at halftime.
After the intermission, the Bulls found their feet, spurred on by creative play from senior midfielder Josue Monge.
Just five minutes after the restart, Monge played a cute back-heel pass in the UCF box to set up freshman midfielder Shion Soga, who would have opened the scoring if not for a fingertip save by the Knights’ goalkeeper.
Monge once again threatened in the 59th minute with a low shot in the left corner, another attempt that was just inches from sneaking past the keeper’s reach.
As the Knights started to press high up the pitch defensively, momentum swung in their favor as well. The next 10 minutes featured three decent chances, one of which just snuck over Takase’s crossbar.
More close calls followed for both teams, until the balance of the game flipped on a pivotal red card for freshman forward Segun Afolabi.
With two minutes to play in regulation, Afolabi challenged for a ball in the opposition penalty area. His leg came in half a second late and instead of directing the ball toward goal, he crashed into a defender’s leg.
The referee showed the straight red without hesitation. Yet another bang-bang play meant the Bulls now had to survive two overtime periods at a clear disadvantage. Butehorn, however, felt his team may have actually played better in spite of being down a player
“[The red card] was unfortunate, but I think our guys responded really well and actually played probably better with a man down than we did maybe when we had the full lot,” Butehorn said.
Barely 90 seconds into the second overtime, a bending free kick into a crowded 18-yard box was deflected off USF junior defender Marcus Murphy. It dribbled weakly into the Bulls net, sealing their fate.
USF will have to settle for even honors in this season’s War on I-4, barring a meeting in the postseason.
“It’s unfortunate for [the team], it’s a game that deserved probably to be called a tie, and it was unfortunate that it turned that way,” Butehorn said. “It’s unfortunate but those things happen. We’ve got to respond and we got to rebound and hopefully guys kind of grow from this.”
The Bulls will look to bounce back against the Memphis Tigers at 7 p.m. in Corbett Stadium on April 2.