It’s been a while.
For the men’s soccer team to not trail in a game, it’s been more than a month – since Oct. 15, when the Bulls scored first and held on for a 1-0 upset over then-No. 3 St. John’s.
So in its first NCAA Tournament game since 2001, when USF (13-6-1) scored first only 22 minutes into the game on a free kick taken by freshman Kevon Neaves, it ended up defeating Stetson (9-11-1) 3-0 on Friday at USF Soccer Stadium.
The Bulls weren’t down in a game for once, and that couldn’t have made goalkeeper Dane Brenner any happier.
“It really helps being up,” said Brenner, who recorded his fourth shutout Friday. “It makes my job a lot easier, and for the most part, I thought we dominated. I know I am tired of being down, because we shoot ourselves in the foot if we get down early.”
Sophomore Simon Schoendorf, who assisted on all three goals, agreed, saying the team’s focus in the postseason has been the main road to its success.
“We’ve been concentrating on setting up better, keeping our energy high in the first half, because we usually slack during that time,” Schoendorf said. “Usually we’re too passive at the beginning of each game, and I thought this time we started off well.
“It was fun, and that’s why we play soccer.”
When the Bulls faced the Hatters in the regular season on Oct. 19, they needed overtime to pull out a 2-1 win. In the 2003 season, Stetson tied USF in a 2-2 overtime game.
Coach George Kiefer knew Stetson wouldn’t be an easy opponent.
“We worked all week on matching (Stetson’s) intensity,” Kiefer said. “I didn’t think we gave them many chances. I thought our defense played well, and I would have been dissatisfied if we had lost that game.
“I felt like Vonny’s (Neaves) goal was coming because he can hit a ball well. It was a very good goal that I thought was coming.”
Stetson’s best chance to score was on a restart play early in the first half, when the free kick sailed into the outer, upper right-hand corner of the Bulls’ goal.
The announced crowd of 1,578 thought the ball went in. Brenner thought otherwise.
“I knew who was going to take the shot,” Brenner said. “I knew the guy running left wasn’t going to shoot. I knew the ball would swing in, and I knew he was going to hit it to (the right) side. I moved pretty good. I knew it wasn’t going in because I was down there.
“I’m sure when it hits the side of net everyone thinks it went in.”
Sophomore Kris Raad scored his second goal of the season in the 73rd minute, and freshman Jordan Seabrook added his team-leading 12th goal with eight minutes remaining.
Kiefer claimed, however, that the defense really pulled through.
“If you look at our stats all season, you’ll see that we’re a very good attacking team,” Kiefer said. “Our priority right now is the defending. If the defending is better in training, it’s quicker, it’s better, and then your ball movement gets better.”
USF will face No. 24 Virginia in the second round at Charlottesville on Tuesday. The Cavaliers had a first-round bye after winning the ACC Soccer Championship, and with temperatures going down below 50 degrees and with a 60 percent chance of rain, Kiefer knows how good Virginia can – and probably will – play.
“I’m looking to go up there,” Kiefer said. “They’ve had their ups and downs this year as well. Should be fun.
“(We) might be too young to be nervous. These guys might to be young to realize what’s going on. So we’re having fun. That’s the key to it.”