If the rain, snow and sleet weren’t enough of a rude welcome to Morgantown for the USF men’s soccer team, there was also the wind.
West Virginia (15-1-2) and USF (9-6-4) battled inclement weather at Dick Dlesk Stadium Saturday, and in the end, the No. 4 Mountaineers survived the test against the Bulls in a 1-0 win. A 35-yard lob from midfielder Dan Stratford was the difference in the game, which was the quarterfinal of the Big East Tournament.
“It was actually a ball that was going out of bounds, I think,” forward Rodrigo Hidalgo said. “(Goalkeeper) Dane Brenner came out, tried to clear it. Unfortunately it was a misclear which ended up somewhere near the half of the field. One of their players (Stratford) surprisingly and very luckily just decided to one-time the ball in the air, and again, with the wind, it just carried a little bit. (Brenner) went back to the goal and you really couldn’t judge a ball well with that type of wind and that type of weather. It was just a misjudgment, and it ended up in the back of the net. Just a little unfortunate.”
Coach George Kiefer agreed that wind was a factor, but he didn’t want to use it as an excuse because both teams had to deal with the conditions.
“I think it affected both teams,” Kiefer said. “It was difficult for both teams to play. But at the same time I thought in the first half – even in the second half after they got the goal – the guys did a good enough job to get a goal, but it just didn’t happen for us.”
USF, which played in the Big East Tournament last year in Connecticut, was prepared for the cold and blustery conditions, but Hidalgo acknowledged that Mother Nature was a hindrance at West Virginia.
“(The wind) was definitely a factor,” Hidalgo said. “Playing any type of soccer for any team is difficult in those conditions. Not only the heavy winds, but also there was rain and it was definitely cold. I hear that there was sleet, (too). But, those conditions obviously changed the pace of the game and changed the tactics a little bit.”
The Bulls faced 50-mph wind gusts, part of a strong cold front that moved across the Northeast earlier in the day. Five of USF’s six shots on goal occurred in the first half when the wind was at the Bulls’ backs.
“Obviously with the wind to our back, (the Mountaineers) were having problems clearing the ball,” Hidalgo said. “So, we were able to maintain possession in their half a little more. We were able to take some shots, and I think that their keeper came up with the biggest saves of the year for them. I would say that he was definitely the biggest factor in their win.”
Stratford’s goal occurred in the 68th minute of the game, halfway through the second half, when West Virginia had the wind in its favor. Before the game, the Mountaineers chose to have the wind at their backs after the break. West Virginia seemingly played the wind to its benefit against a USF team unfamiliar with playing in blustery conditions.
“It’s hard to prepare for such conditions, weather-wise,” Hidalgo said. “It’s not something that you deal with every day.”
Despite the weather, Hidalgo, who had two shots on goal in the game, said it wasn’t just the inclement weather that led to West Virginia’s only goal.
“I think that we managed (the weather) somewhat well for most of the game,” Hidalgo said. “We lost focus for a quick minute or two when we got scored on.”
Unless they get invited to the NCAA Tournament, the loss to the Mountaineers ended the Bulls season. USF, with a .545 winning percentage, will have to wait until Nov. 6 for the NCAA to release this year’s teams.
Kiefer took the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament last season, and despite the loss to West Virginia, he feels USF still has a chance to return.
“If you look at the amount of teams that have records like ours – there’s not too many teams that have run the table,” Kiefer said. “I think you can make arguments for us, but at the same time I think you could also make some arguments against us.”