With a goal and two assists, Jeff Thwaites just edged MVP honors from two-goal scorer Hunter West as the Bulls demolished Conference USA opponent East Carolina 4-0 Saturday. The senior’s picture-perfect goal, a free kick, was straight from the training ground.
“I actually stayed an hour before the game and practiced free-kicks,” said Thwaites. “(The free-kick) was in exactly that same spot.”
Within two minutes of freshman Brian Gil’s first career goal in the 66th minute, a foul on West 20 yards from goal gave Thwaites his chance.
“I was thinking the whole time ‘Get it over the wall. As long as I get it over the wall it’s going in.'”
And it was – his right-foot strike, curling the ball over the defensive wall and into the near top corner, drew comparisons with Manchester United and English star David Beckham, whose trademark is scoring from dead-ball situations. The similarity is no coincidence.
“I used to watch (Beckham’s) free-kicks and put them on slow-motion. Whenever I step up to take a free-kick I think of him,” said Thwaites.
In advancing their record to 2-0, the Bulls posted a win that will have their conference rivals sitting up and taking notice. A measure of the Bulls’ total dominance was their 18 shots on goal compared to the solitary effort mustered by ECU. Coach George Kiefer said he was as happy with the Bulls’ second consecutive shutout as he was with their attacking display.
“I was happy we were able to get another shutout. I thought the team did a better job of making sure the game was our type of game,” Kiefer said.
“We’re very happy as a staff with the team’s approach to the match and the way they finished the match off.”
Following a scoreless first half, Kiefer’s introduction of Gabriel Salgado, who had been left out of the starting 11 in preference to Rustin Kluge and Aaron Paroulek, sparked the Bulls. Their inventive forward play forced a succession of chances, the closest of which was a Brian Mullins’ effort that hit the post. Just as it seemed the Pirates’ had weathered the storm, Thwaites and Paroulek combined to set up Gil, who side-footed past Pirates keeper R.J. Marvinney from seven yards.
After Thwaites had made it two goals in two minutes, the Bulls continued to carve out shots on goal, Salgado going close on two occasions.
It was left to West to ensure the score-line reflected the Bulls’ superiority. His two goals in the last five minutes maintained his record of having scored every time he pulls on a Bulls’ shirt. The freshman, with three goals in two starts, in addition to two goals in two games from pre-season play, is clearly finding college soccer to his liking.
West’s first goal came from a Thwaites’ corner. West found himself unmarked and powered a header past Marvinney. The freshman completed the rout by latching on to Salgado’s through ball, out-muscling the last Pirates defender, toeing the ball past Marvinney and stroking the ball into an empty net.
Referring to ECU’s narrow loss against Penn State the previous weekend, Thwaites said USF’s win was all the more impressive.
“I think that it brings a lot of recognition to us. 4-0 is a big win against anybody, much less a team that just lost 4-2 to a big team like Penn State,” Thwaites said.
Kiefer, however, demurred, saying it was premature to draw any conclusions so early in the season.
“I think it’s too early to read too much into any games,” he said. “Teams are getting knocked off left and right, so a 4-0 win now could be a 3-2 game later.”