Both USF and Charlotte had a lot to gain in Sunday’s men’s soccer match at the USF Soccer Stadium.
The Bulls had a chance to secure the second seed and a bye in this week’s Conference USA tournament with a win or tie, while the 49ers would book their place in the tournament with a win or tie.
Charlotte achieved its objective, winning 1-0 to hold down the fourth seed in the tournament. Juan Munoz-Airey scored his seventh goal of the season late in the second half, and goalkeeper Lucas Mackanos shut out the Bulls with nine saves.
“I told John Tart, the head coach from Charlotte, with about 10 minutes to go, before their goal, ‘Hey, you know what, this is a good game. It’s a good college game,'” said USF coach John Hackworth. “You watched chance after chance. One time it’s going down, flying this way, and the other time it’s coming, flying that way. That’s why you play these games.
“I can’t be upset. We were on the losing end of it today, and we’ll try to change that result for the weekend.”With so much on the line, both teams pressed forward and took a total of 28 shots in the match. USF attempted 18 of those and had 14 corner kicks, but they were thwarted by Mackanos, who earned his third C-USA Defensive Player of the Week award for his effort, becoming the first player to win three times in one season since Charlotte’s David Hughes in 1997.
Late in the first half, the sophomore net-minder spoiled USF’s best chance of the half when he drifted backwards and tipped over a shot by Jason Cudjoe. Mackanos foiled Cudjoe again early in the second half, challenging the USF forward and forcing him to fire high from point-blank range. With eight minutes to play, Mackanos again kept Cudjoe off the score sheet, tipping over a high shot that was goalbound.
“It was a phenomenal goalkeeper we came up against,” Hackworth said. “He made some awesome saves, at least four that would have been goals for us all year long.”
Charlotte came within inches of opening the scoring on a counterattack in the 42nd minute, but the shot by David McGill banged off the left post.
Munoz-Airey broke the tie in the 78th minute, unleashing a blistering left-footed shot from the edge of the 18-yard box, which lodged in the upper right corner of the net.
The Bulls went into pure attack mode after that, with Cudjoe and forwards Gabe Salgado, Simba Harris and J.P Pagano all on the field, but they could not find the equalizer.
“I thought we played very good soccer,” Hackworth said. “I’m hugely disappointed that we lost, but I don’t think this was anything except … it wasn’t going to be our day today. If we continue to play like that, we’ll do great in the championships.”Tournament field set
With the regular season completed, the six-team field is now set for the C-USA Soccer Tournament beginning Thursday at the USF Soccer Stadium. With the loss to Charlotte, USF retained third place in the C-USA standings and will play sixth-seeded Marquette on Thursday at 8 p.m. Charlotte will play fifth seed Cincinnati at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Regular season champion Saint Louis and No. 2 seed UAB have first round byes and will begin play Friday. UAB was upset Friday by East Carolina, but USF’s loss assured the Blazers of the second spot.
- Khari Williams covers men’s soccer and can be reached at email@example.com