MIAMI — There was good news and bad news for the No. 21 USF men’s soccer team following the FIU Classic in Miami this weekend.
The good news is that the team ended its three-game losing skid.
The bad news is that the Bulls got a hard look at what awaits them in the Big East next season.
In the first game Friday, USF faced a team it never had before when it played Fairleigh Dickinson and won 2-0 at University Park. The Knights (8-5-1) are the top team in the Northeast Conference (6-1).
The Bulls, coming from a three-game skid, finally showed up.
Freshman Rodrigo Hildalgo put on a scoring show, grabbing the game’s two goals within three minutes of each other early in the second half.
On the second goal, Hildalgo caught the rebound from Keeron Benito’s shot off the crossbar and put the ball past diving FDU goalkeeper Elvir Prasovic. Friday’s game marks Hildalgo’s first multi-goal game of the season in his brief collegiate career. He now has a team-leading six goals on the year.
USF goalkeeper Dane Brenner faced five shots during the game and recorded one save for his sixth shutout of the season.
On Saturday, the Bulls met No. 9 St. John’s (10-4-4) in the regular season for the first time ever. The only other meeting between the two teams was a 2-1 USF victory in the second round of the 1997 NCAA tournament.
Saturday was a different story, as St John’s dominated the Bulls 5-0.
The game’s first score came on a cross-field pass from Red Storm midfielder Andre Schmid to forward Andrei Gotsmanov, who headed the ball past Brenner, scoring his first goal of the night.
Then came controversy.
With less than four minutes left in the first half, St. John’s midfielder Jeff Carroll was streaking past the USF defense in pursuit of the ball. The Bulls wanted an offsides call but were not awarded one. Brenner then came about three feet out of the goal box to knock the ball away so he would not be forced with a one-on-one situation that probably would have ended in a St. John’s goal.
As a result, Brenner was given a red card and ejected from the game. By rule, it is illegal for a goalkeeper to leave the goal box and intentionally touch the ball with his hands.
Freshman Freddy Hall replaced Brenner and the Bulls seemed to lose their momentum because of the call.
Gotsmanov scored two more goals in the game to give himself a hat trick and Georgios Spanos scored the other two goals as the Red Storm beat the Bulls to give USF their worst loss since a 5-0 defeat to North Carolina in 2001.
USF (8-4-2) lacked luster for the rest of the game when it was forced to face a future Big East rival with only 10 players on the field for almost 50 minutes.
Bulls coach George Kiefer was unhappy with the officials and acknowledged that Brenner’s ejection cost the Bulls dearly.
“Yeah, that was a bad call. I just wanted to confirm in on our tape, and (Carroll) was about three yards offsides,” Kiefer said. “I thought we played a good first half, but (Brenner getting ejected) really changed the game.
“I would say that we had to play one of the top programs in the country with a man down for fifty-something minutes and I can give my guys credit for working until the end. They didn’t quit.”
Sophomore captain Benito agreed with his coach.
“Totally a bad call,” Benito said. “He was at least three feet offsides. It should have been our call. We played at least at (St. John’s) level in the first half, but we lack experience because I know that the Big East is a very high level. This will be good experience for us though.”
Kiefer was optimistic after the loss and was able to find some positives despite the lopsided score.
“I think if you look at when the sides were even, I think we’re ready now,” Kiefer said. “I’m not even thinking about the Big East right now, but I think we’ll be ready for the Big East when the sides are even. The game of soccer when down a man is tough, especially against a top team. I still had guys that were working, and it’s guys like those you can build things around.”
One guy Kiefer is sure to build the future around will be Hildalgo. He is now tied with fellow freshmen Simon Schoendorf for the team lead in points, with 15.
“We just mentally broke down somewhere in between (Brenner) getting red-carded and the next five minutes,” Hildalgo said. “I thought we played really well in the first half. I think everyone played well, but I don’t think anyone gave up at all.
“We’ve learned from this game. I think we believe we are a very inexperienced team. So we’ve learned that we need to be ready. I believe we’re going to make it to the NCAA tournament and we have to be ready for teams like St. John’s.”