Keeron Benito finally felt like he belonged on the field instead of the bench.
In only his second game of the season, Benito scored his first goal, which tied the game against St. Louis on Saturday night that ended in a 2-2 double-overtime match.
“It feels great,” Benito said. “It was kind of hard for me, but I had a nice game tonight.”
The Bulls sophomore captain was sidelined with a foot injury for the first five games, but coach George Kiefer knew his road to recovery would be a long one.
“He’s (Benito) coming off a six week injury,” Kiefer said, “and he showed us what he can do tonight. To bury that ball with three to go with the conviction that he did shows you what kind of guy that he is. He adds a lot of power to our attack.”
USF took an early 1-0 lead with 22 minutes left in the first half when freshmen Rodrigo Hidalgo netted his second goal of the season on a give-and-go pass off the back heel of Simon Schoendorf.
The Billikens (3-3-1, 1-0-1 C-USA) quickly tied the game at a goal apiece when John DiRaimondo scored with a 7-yard shot across the penalty box on a pass from Tim Ward.
St. Louis took the lead in the second half when USF defender Blake Sharpe missed a pass and St. Louis’ Nick Cicciarelli beat goalkeeper Dane Brenner at a one-on-one contest. With the score at 2-1, the Bulls trailed for the first time during the season.
With only 3:39 left in the game, Benito scored his goal by receiving a cross from Schoendorf on the left side of the field. Benito took a 20-yard shot, putting it into the upper right-hand corner of the net.
“They (St. Louis) are real deceiving with their record,” Kiefer said. “They could easily have a better record.
“After we gave the goal up, I gave my guys a lot of credit, because they woke up and became more aggressive and went back and were able to get the tying goal.”
The Bulls had numerous chances to take the lead, including one by Christian Jimenez, who took a 19-yard shot that hit the right post.
“They did a good job, coming out here, trying to come at us,” Hidalgo said. “Hopefully we’ll get better and better and grow as a team.
“But it’s good to see (Keeron) do good out there because it’s a great feeling to have a teammate like him. He has been motivating a lot of us who are hurt right now, so you got to give him a lot of credit.”
Kiefer could see in practice that Benito was unhappy about being injured and sitting out games, but found a way to keep his young captain working hard.
“It’s been frustrating for him,” Kiefer said. “He’s never been in this situation, where he’s a reserve, but he handled it well. The team is doing well, and if you get injured, you start to not see your value, and that is something he was starting to feel. He’s one of our better players, and to have him back in the lineup is a great surprise.”
Benito knew he would have to work hard this season, from helping with the new players to providing the leadership the team needed, and his work ethic is proof alone.
“I have been working hard to come back. Every day.” Benito said. “After practice, I would go extra, just to get back into the game. Coach knew I was disappointed because I wasn’t playing, but he told me to pick my head up. He knew this is the position I need to be in, because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t learn anything.”
USF was outshot 20-18 by St. Louis, but is still the top C-USA team, with a 2-0-1 conference record. The Bulls are off to their best start under coach Kiefer at 5-0-2.