It was a heart-wrenching finale at best. The USF men’s soccer team waited all summer for this season. Patiently waiting for their chance to make some noise in Conference USA.
And just like that, it was over. On Nov. 12, the Bulls walked away from Cardinal Park in Louisville with a 2-0 loss to St. Louis in the conference tournament.
A season of hopes and goals, including the 29 scored on the field, was the year that seemed to have a prosperous feeling to it. But the long climb on a 10-5-2 season still had the steep drop that always follows.
The Bulls’ success can be deceiving, though. Despite the short post-season, despite the three straight conference losses at the worst time of the season, despite the goalie controversy at the end of the nine-game unbeaten streak, there are plenty of accomplishments that will keep the Bulls smiling all the way to the Big East next year.
The opportunities kept showing up for USF, but coach George Kiefer said his team let each one slip through its grasp.
“I think this group of seniors and this group of players in the program got everything going in the right direction,” Kiefer said about how the season could be different. “We learned a hard lesson. One less goal post or one penalty kick finish or one less restart goal, and things might be different, but that’s sports though. I think it’s going to give this group a lot of experience.
“This was a season of should’ves and could’ves. We should’ve beat Cincinnati. We could’ve beat Marquette. But that’s also the game of soccer.”
In hindsight, the team is losing only five seniors, while just two of them, defensemen Brandon Streicher and Chris Raye, were starters. Also, the Bulls had the No. 3 recruiting class for 2004 that produced a leading scorer and more than half of the offensive production of the team.
But Kiefer’s players agree they should have and could have done better in the middle of the season. When Rodrigo Hidalgo dethroned Hunter West from the title of the team’s leading scorer this year, he was excited, as most freshmen would be in a team with numerous offensive weapons. West still led the team in goals with seven, but Hidalgo, with all the early success in his career, was disappointed with the end of this season.
“We were so pumped up and so ready to win it all (at the tournament),” Hidalgo said. “I think the team went through our little disappointment, but hopefully we can pick it back up and get ready for next year.”
The newcomers, however, lived up to their hype. Hidalgo started every game and had six goals and six assists. Three of his goals were game winners, including his first collegiate goal when he scored in overtime to beat DePaul on Sept. 8.
Christian Jimenez and Simon Schoendorf also added their firepower to the lineup, not to mention three and four goals, respectively. Schoendorf, who was the sleeper of the three prominent freshmen, came all the way from Karlsruhe, Germany, to bring a little European flavor to USF.
“We expected to win the conference tournament and we had a couple of players have an unlucky match, and will just try to pick it up next season,” Schoendorf said. “What people would call the easier things and easier teams this season, we failed to beat or to do. Simple things like penalty kicks, or beating teams who weren’t ranked. I think if we played closer to what we are more capable of, we would have maybe gotten a bid for the NCAA tournament.”
Schoendorf was second on the team in scoring with 15 points, tying West, but also led the team with seven assists. But the midfielder realizes he had help in becoming C-USA Co-Freshmen of the Year, sharing the honor with his teammate, Hidalgo.
“I want to say that Brian Gil was probably our best player out there this season,” Schoendorf said of his fellow midfielder. “He fought hard for every ball like a defender, while I have the easy part, where I just have to go get the balls that he sends toward the goal.”
Gil, who had one assist this season, also started every game. The real difference maker for the Bulls this season was sophomore goalkeeper Dane Brenner and his six shutouts.
The North Carolina native allowed only 12 goals, had a 0.85 GAA, a 9-3-2 record and 49 saves on the year. As his first year as starting goalie, he took charge of the defense, keeping opposing teams out of USF’s goal box. For Brenner, next season has enough excitement within itself.
“I’m still a little down about this season, but I’m looking forward to next season because we can make a name for ourselves in the Big East,” Brenner said. “I personally can’t wait to get there and face some of the better teams in the country.”
Now, the Bulls have to again wait all summer for the new Big East ride. But what ups and downs are in store?
With the 2005 season more than eight months away, the men’s soccer team will fight boredom on the long ride up and only hope that the end of the Big East ride isn’t the same as the C-USA ride.
“I’m glad that the coaches have put so much trust in me and I could help the team this season,” Schoendorf said about becoming an experienced college player. “I think that things are only going to get better for me because I had to get used to everything by coming over here to play. I imagine making a name for myself with this program and look forward to being a core figure next season, in hoping next year will be as good as this one.”