As the USF men’s soccer team finished up its season at USF Soccer Stadium Saturday night, the game meant more to some players, mostly the older ones, than to others.
Before the game, USF recognized its five graduating seniors: defensemen Brandon Streicher and Chris Raye, goalkeeper Peter Lechak, midfielder Erwin Suarez and forward Kevin King.
The Bulls went on to beat Conference USA rival Louisville 3-1 as the team wrapped up its successful season with a record of 10-4-2, 5-3-1 C-USA.
USF struck early in the game, scoring its first goal within five minutes of the first half.
Freshman Simon Schoendorf drew a penalty when he was taken down from behind by Louisville goalkeeper Charles Edwards while chasing a pass from freshman Rodrigo Hidalgo inside the Cardinals’ goal box. The Bulls were awarded a penalty shot that Streicher lined up for and quickly put in the top left corner for the lead. The goal was Streicher’s second of the season.
USF coach George Kiefer was obviously confident with his decision to pick Streicher to take the shot, and said his choice had been made before the foul.
“That decision was made two weeks ago. He’s a senior and steady player, and he doesn’t get nervous,” Kiefer said. “He’s taken (penalty shots) his whole life, so it has nothing to do with senior night. He was our guy and he did a great job with it.”
In the second half, the Cardinals (5-10-4, 2-6-1 C-USA) came out charging and scored within five minutes.
Goalkeeper Dane Brenner, who had four saves on 13 shots, made a diving stop on a 23-yard shot by Louisville midfielder David Guzman, knocking it out of bounds and giving the Cardinals a corner kick.
On the kick, forward Ian Quattroucchi sent the ball to the head of defender Andy Damier who snuck the ball past Brenner on the near post.
The Bulls bounced back with 28 minutes left in the game when Hidalgo set up a give-and-go pass to junior captain Hunter West, who chipped the ball over Edwards for his game-winning and team-leading seventh goal of the season.
Louisville had numerous chances to tie the game up, but with 46 seconds left, it was a senior who secured the Bulls’ victory.
Hidalgo dribbled the ball to the top of the Cardinals goal box, took a shot and had it blocked. King recovered the rebound, took his own shot and put the insurance goal into the left corner of the net. The goal was King’s third of the year, while Hidalgo got his sixth assist of the season and second of the game. The freshman leads the team with 18 scoring points.
Kiefer was glad for his seniors and with the way the season turned out.
“This is a great way for the seniors to go out. A 3-1 win,” Kiefer said. “To wrap up a season at 10-4-2, I would’ve signed off on that at the beginning of the year, with the schedule that we had. I thought our guys did well. I’m very happy with the team right now.”
King and Streicher were ecstatic after the win because they were both able to notch goals in front of their last home crowd as seniors.
“I’m so excited,” King said. “It’s very good that I get to go off as a senior here at home with a goal. Its something that I will remember for life.”
Streicher added, “It feels great. It was a penalty shot, which we’ve struggled a little on this year. Going up I really wasn’t nervous, but it still feels great.
“(This win) will get us back on track, in terms of we will get our confidence back and that feeling we had at the beginning of the year, where we stepped on the field, we really didn’t fear anybody.”
Now comes the C-USA tournament for the Bulls, something that has been in the team’s sights since before the season started.
“We are just going to attack and just let our guys go forward. We are not going to play conservatively,” Kiefer said about the game strategy in the tournament. “So that’s what we’re going to throw at teams, and that’s how we’re going to play.”
With the win over Louisville, USF was able to move up in the conference standings while improving its placement in the conference playoff tree for the tournament, which starts Nov. 11. The Bulls moved up from the sixth to the fourth seed by beating the Cardinals, and will face St. Louis (8-7-1, 5-3-1 C-USA) in the first round on Thursday. In their regular-season matchup, the Bulls tied the Billikens 2-2 on Sept. 25 at USF.