Entering the weekend’s Conference USA twin bill with an 8-0 record, the USF men’s soccer team was steaming toward the school record for most consecutive wins (10). But the USF train came to an abrupt halt Friday when the No. 9 Bulls were beaten 3-0 by UAB at the USF Soccer Stadium.
The match was evenly contested early in the first half, but the Blazers soon gained control and sent the Bulls to their first loss of the season.
“I thought we actually started playing very good in the first half. We just didn’t make adjustments during the course of the game like we have all year. That was disappointing,” said USF coach John Hackworth. “Then I think some people didn’t play their roles the way they were supposed to, and it kind of dominoed from there.
“It’s a tough one, but all good things have to come to an end. We will regroup and be ready for Sunday.”
Hackworth made good on his promise, as USF defeated C-USA newcomer East Carolina 1-0 Sunday, courtesy of a Joe Valencia goal in the 57th minute. The shutout was USF’s fifth of the year.
The Bulls (9-1, 3-1 in C-USA) dominated play for most of Sunday’s match, and had a near miss in the first half when a shot by junior midfielder Jeff Thwaites hit the crossbar. Valencia, playing his usual role at left back, beat a defender and found himself with some running room. The senior ran forward and sent in the winning goal from 20 yards out.
“We did a good job. The boys rebounded and they put Friday night behind them and learnt from their mistakes … I’m proud of our performance,” Hackworth said.
The 1-0 margin could have been even wider, according to Hackworth.
“We played good soccer, but we did need to finish some more opportunities,” Hackworth said. “Even though we won the game, we should have won it by three or four goals.”
In contrast to Sunday’s victory against the Pirates (4-5, 1-3 in C-USA), the Bulls turned in their poorest display of the year Friday vs. the Blazers (8-1, 3-0). In front of a 550-strong crowd, the largest home attendance of the season, USF fell behind in the 29th minute when UAB’s Martin Rey got the first goal. Rey skied a high header from the edge of the penalty area, beating goalkeeper Troy Perkins who had come out to challenge for the ball.
Rey doubled the lead in the 53rd minute. From the left flank, Martin Weimer sent a cross toward Rey in the penalty area, and the USF defenders did not close on him fast enough. Rey chested the ball down and shot past Perkins from close range.
Mike Garcia completed the scoring ten minutes later, shaking free of defender Jared Vock’s challenge and scoring on a breakaway.
“My hat goes off to UAB. They are a very good soccer team … and won the battle tonight,” Hackworth said Friday.
The Bulls’ game plan was to play forward Jason Cudjoe out wide, opening up space on the opposite flanks for the outside midfielders. But the tactic did not work, as UAB’s midfield controlled the action.
“We just didn’t stick to our game plan. The things we’ve been practicing all week, I don’t think we did a good job of executing that (Friday). It was just very poor,” Cudjoe said.