All the men’s soccer team can do now is sit and wait.
The Bulls were hoping to secure a guaranteed spot into the NCAA Tournament by beating
Connecticut in the Big East Championship final Sunday, but were defeated by the Huskies 1-0.Now the team has to anxiously await an invitation from the NCAA today as it tries to shake its disheartening loss to Connecticut.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking because we put so much work into it,” sophomore Rodrigo Hidalgo said. “It was a tough game because of the atmosphere, but we’re still somewhat proud of ourselves because we did everything we could do to win.”
The NCAA awards berths in the tournament to 23 conference champions, and one of those could have been the Bulls if they had beat the Huskies.
In the game, the Bulls struggled offensively on what was originally intended to be a neutral site. Connecticut played on their home field, Morrone Stadium, in front of a crowd of 2,511 – most of whom were rooting for the Huskies.
“It was definitely a distraction to an opposing team when you have 2,000-plus screaming and pumping up the home team,” Hidalgo said. “It gives them momentum, where as the visiting team it’s harder to pick up the momentum.”
Fueling the crowd was the Bulls’ lethargic offense and the early domination by the Huskies.”We started the game a little slow and a little passive,” said coach George Kiefer, whose team this season went deepest into the postseason in his four years at USF. “After the first 20 minutes, we really stepped up our pressure and played well.”
Connecticut took advantage of the sluggish Bulls, scoring in the 13th minute when the Huskies’ O’Brian White headed a cross from forward Stanley Ford past Bulls’ goalkeeper Dane Brenner.
Brenner, who held himself out of the Bulls’ semifinal match against Providence because of a bad ankle, had three saves in the game and insisted the injury did not affect his movement.
“It took a while to warm up,” Brenner said. “But once I got out there, I saw that I could make the saves that I needed to make and I could help the team; I just made a decision to play.”
The Bulls also started to heat up on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The defense held the Huskies to four second-half shots and helped out Brenner with two team saves.
After getting off two shots in the first half, the offense finished the game with six shots, including three on goal and controlled the ball for much of the second half.
But the Bulls’ late-game run wasn’t enough, and the Huskies – the only team in the Big East to finish with a better overall record than USF – prevailed, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament and the title of Big East Champions.
Kiefer is confident that – although they lost in the final- the season isn’t over.
“The final of the Big East tournament, you want to win it; so there’s some disappointment,” Kiefer said. “But we’re not going to get too low. We are just looking forward to getting a bid and seeing where we are going to play.”
While most will spend today hoping the Bulls did enough to impress the committee, Kiefer will just spend his time concentrating his efforts on “just figuring out the brackets tomorrow.”
Brenner described the mood in the locker room after the game.
“Everybody was kind of frustrated, kind of mad,” he said. “At the same time, in the bigger picture, we got the NCAA Tournament next week, and we’re pretty sure we’ll get a bid.”Brenner also added that if USF does not get an invitation from the committee, it will be a huge surprise.
“If we don’t get into the NCAAs, it will be a very big, big, big upset. We’re pretty sure we are getting into those,” Brenner said. “We can even make the argument for a Sweet 16 bye in the first round, but I don’t know if that will happen or not.”
The Bulls are now at the mercy of the NCAA committee, but they won’t be left in limbo for long – the NCAA Selection Show airs today on ESPNews at 4 p.m.