In 19 matches last year, the USF men?s soccer team did not record a single shutout.
But the Bulls blanked the opposition in their first two matches of this season, defeating Lafayette Friday and Florida International Sunday by 1-0 margins in the USF Reebok Classic tournament at the USF Soccer Stadium.
?It?s great to see what has been four years of hard work start coming out ? the pieces are all there right now and everybody?s contributing in whatever way they can,? said USF coach John Hackworth.
Hackworth praised his defenders and goalkeeper for adapting to his method of defense.
?Those guys are making great decisions on how to step and when to step and when to take the man,? Hackworth said. ?It?s just working now, and I think they believe in each other.?
One of those defenders, junior Brian Mullins, provided the win against FIU Sunday with a penalty kick in the 60th minute. But Mullins and his fellow defenders were tested early by the Golden Panthers, conceding a penalty after only two minutes of play. USF sophomore goalkeeper Troy Perkins and FIU midfielder Matias Asorey contested a 50-50 ball in the 18-yard box, and Perkins was whistled for the foul. Forward Russell Vreeland took the penalty kick, but Perkins dove to his right and saved the ball with his feet.
?The kid who took it I played with two summers ago in PDL (Professional Development League),? said Perkins. ?I knew he liked to go to my right, so the whole time I just knew it.?
USF failed to seriously threaten until the second half, when Mullins headed just wide of the post from a corner kick in the 55th minute. Five minutes later, Mullins got his chance from the penalty spot, after a foul on forward Jason Cudjoe. FIU goalkeeper Franklyn Rubio dove the right way, but Mullins? shot still rattled into the net.
The Bulls were primarily in defensive mode for the remainder of the match. Perkins was brought into action several times (nine saves), reeling off two diving saves of shots by junior national forward Landy Mattison late in the second half.
?That?s what I expected out of Troy when he got here,? said Hackworth. ?Maybe not as a freshman, but I knew he had that ability.
?I know there were a couple of guys in the stands who are MLS (Major League Soccer) scouts, and if they don?t think he?s one of the best goalkeepers in the country, they?re crazy.?
Hackworth singled out another player for commendation.
?Jason Cudjoe didn?t get a point in this tournament but he had to be the most dangerous guy on the field out of any team that walked out here. He was huge,? Hackworth said. ?He was stretching defenses, he was making runs, he got the PK (penalty kick) at the end.?
The other starting forward, Simba Harris, had extra motivation for playing the Golden Panthers ? the sophomore spent his first year at FIU before transferring in the spring. He admitted to losing sleep the night before the match, but he was relieved with the outcome of the match and satisfied with his decision to transfer to USF.
?It?s a better program, better school. I love it here and it just wasn?t my scene down there, you know,? Harris said. ?But I?m glad I made the move, though, for sure.?
Midfielder Gabriel Salgado said the Bulls? victory resulted from the team?s work ethic.
?Victory, like they say, goes to whoever works the hardest, whoever wants it the most,? he said. ?And I guess we wanted it the most, so we had to take it.?
The Bulls (2-0) played the Golden Panthers (0-1) without two regular starters from last year. Defender Aaron Ortega was suspended by the team for undisclosed reasons and also missed the Lafayette match, while midfielder Jeff Thwaites was ejected against Lafayette (1-1) and given a mandatory one-match ban for receiving two yellow cards. Thwaites? first caution was for a hard tackle and his second came for taunting the opposition after curling in a direct free kick in the 67th minute. Leopards defender Mike Saioni was also ejected for shoving Thwaites to the ground.
The other team in the tournament, Florida Atlantic (0-1), lost to the Leopards 2-1 in double overtime Sunday.
Hackworth served a warning to the Bulls? future opponents.
?My teams always get better as the year goes on (and) now we?re starting off on a winning note, and it?s fantastic,? Hackworth said.
?I can?t say how proud of these guys I am.?
Contact Khari Williams at email@example.com