The Bulls are playoff bound thanks to stellar performances at both ends of the field.
Up front, a superb solo goal from Hunter West, his 13th of the season, finally saw off a gallant TCU side. At the back, ever-present goalkeeper Troy Perkins made four crucial saves in regulation to earn his seventh shutout and second Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week award of the season.
On the last day of the regular season, the Bulls finally cemented their C-USA berth with a 1-0 overtime victory over lowly TCU (3-14-1, 2-7-1 in conference) at Garvey-Rosenthal Stadium Saturday. The Bulls enter C-USA play as the fourth seed and will open their post-season against Cincinnati Thursday in St. Louis.
West’s game-winner came on a counter-attack in the dying seconds of the first overtime period. Gaining possession close to the halfway line, the Brandenton-born forward bore down on goal, beating TCU’s last defender before firing the ball under TCU goalkeeper Justin Durst and into the corner of the net.
West’s ability to step up to college level in his first season has been a pleasant surprise for USF coach George Kiefer.
“Hunter is just a guy that I can’t say enough about,” said Kiefer. “You could build something with this guy.”
The Bulls were also in debt to Perkins’ performance between the posts. The junior, who leads the conference with seven shutouts, made two saves in each half to keep the Bulls in contention. The award for C-USA Defensive Player of the Week comes just three weeks after Perkins’ shutout of conference leader St. Louis earned the Ohio native his first award. The plaudits are, according to his coach, well merited.
“Troy came up with a few very, very good saves. Troy is the main reason we were able to win that game,” said Kiefer. “He has been coming up big in every game. Unfortunately, teams are getting too many chances at him.”
Having set his team the target of making the C-USA playoffs prior to the season, Kiefer had to watch his charges struggle against teams below them in the conference standings. However, there was a sense of relief at having finally clinched qualification Saturday.
“I was happy to get the win. It was a tough place to play with very windy conditions and a bumpy field,” said Kiefer. “That was a big step for us with the way we’ve been struggling with teams from the bottom of the table.”
Kiefer also reserved praise for the workrate of midfielder Anthony Finazzo, who performs the unglamorous task of defensive anchor, allowing other midfielders to make forward runs.
With Saturday’s win, the Bulls finish the regular season 11-6, with a 6-4 record in conference play. The Bulls travel to St. Louis Wednesday for their seventh C-USA playoff appearance, out of a possible eight, since the league’s inception in 1995.
The Bulls’ win over TCU was achieved without seniors Jeff Thwaites, Kevin Cowan and Brian Mullins, who were suspended by Kiefer following a breach of team rules at the previous weekend’s road trip to DePaul. Kiefer said, with the suspension served, the incident would be forgotten and the trio welcomed back into the fold. The coach said he was pleased the Bulls’ qualification affords the trio the opportunity to end their college careers on a more upbeat note.
“That was the only risky part about it. I didn’t want to see those guys end their career at South Florida that way,” he said. “So I was happy we got the win. Now we’ll see if they can pay us back a little bit.”
Chris O’Donnell covers USF men’s soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org