Bulls tangle with Knights

Fresh off two Conference USA wins and boasting the co-Offensive Players of the Week in C-USA, the USF men’s soccer team steps out of conference play tonight to host in-state rival Central Florida. Match time is 7 p.m. at the USF Soccer Stadium.

Like most other USF sports team, the Bulls played UCF last year and came away victors, by a 3-1 margin. UCF was winless at that point, and went on to win just two matches all season. But the Golden Knights (10-6, 4-3 in the Atlantic Sun Conference) are resurgent this year, and defeated Charleston Southern 4-2 Monday in their last match.

“They are a strong attacking team,” USF coach John Hackworth said. “We’ll have to contain their forwards and do a good job of matching up with them. Again, we have to play our game and we have to execute our offense and play good sound principles of defense, and I think we’re going to be OK.”

UCF goalkeeper Juuso Heikurainen will likely have his hands full with a USF team that scored seven goals during last weekend’s matches – a 2-0 shutout vs. DePaul at home Friday night and a 5-2 dismantling of Memphis two days later.

The catalysts of that success were midfielder Jeff Thwaites (assist vs. DePaul and hat trick vs. Memphis) and forward Gabriel Salgado (both goals vs. DePaul and four assists vs. Memphis). Both were awarded the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week award for their efforts.

Hackworth said Thwaites’ offensive showing was actually a result of his willingness to play defense and not stray from his central midfield position.

“Jeff Thwaites finally committed to defending against Memphis, and it’s like we were a new team, right off the bat,” Hackworth said. “It makes a big difference.”

According to Hackworth, the entire USF team played good defense against Memphis, especially in repelling counterattacks – a problem area dating back to last season – but the Bulls will be without one of their most experienced defenders, Casey Stump, tonight and possibly for the rest of the season. Stump played in 12 matches this year, but missed the DePaul and Memphis matches with soreness in his right knee, and re-injured the knee during a six-on-six scrimmage in practice Monday.

The extent of the injury is not yet known, but a tear of the medial collateral ligament is suspected.

Hackworth said the other USF defenders are prepared to pick up the slack.

“We’re deep and we were able to succeed without him. We miss him, but all we can do now is go on. Our depth has been a strength of ours all year and will continue to have to be.”