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Soccer earns tournament berth

After a loss to Connecticut in the second round of the Big East championship, the future of the men’s soccer team was uncertain.

On Monday the Bulls gathered at the athletic department to watch the selection show announcing their berth in the NCAA tournament.

It’s the 12th trip to the tournament in USF’s history and the second trip in three years. The Bulls finished at 12-5-2 overall and lost their final game to a Connecticut team ranked No.1 in the nation.

Coach George Kiefer and his players couldn’t be sure, but the popular opinion was that they were going to get in.

“The guys are feeling good about it and it’s nice to see it up on the screen,” Kiefer said. “We felt good after seeing our last ranking was No. 22. You never know until you see it on the screen, but that was a good indicator that we were in

good shape.”

The Bulls learned that Colgate will be coming to them Friday for first-round action. Relieved to be hosting their first match of the tournament, the Bulls are confident that their 8-1 home record this season speaks for how difficult it is to win against them at the USF soccer stadium.

“I felt like we deserved a home game after the way we played this year,” junior forward Jordan Seabrook said. “To be playing a game at home where we feel comfortable playing anybody is a huge advantage for us and a big relief.”

USF hasn’t seen any action since their 2-0 loss to Connecticut on Nov. 10. Any time a team has 13 days without a contest after a steady workload for the season, questions arise about whether long periods of rest are good for the team. Rejuvenated as they may be, it could throw off the chemistry that has built up over a long season on the pitch.

For USF, the break has been something they needed.

“It’s good for us ’cause we had guys that have needed at least three or four days’ rest,” Kiefer said. “Whether it’s a strained muscle or just wear and tear of a college soccer season, this has been great for us. It’s like we’re in preseason again – guys are rested, healthy and energized. I feel good about that time off.”

The Bulls’ training sessions grow ever more important at this point in the year and will be put to the test with the match against Colgate. Staying match fit is a key component of USF’s style of play and the championship run they’re hoping to make.

“For some reason training has been the hardest since preseason,” team captain Yohance Marshall said. “Training and not knowing whether or not we were going to play again or where we would place was difficult. It’s nice to know we have another game.”

The season this USF team is having comes as a surprise to some. Preseason polls had the Bulls out of the rankings, as the college soccer community labeled them as having a rebuilding year.

With their tournament berth, that judgment of the team has proven false.

“Everybody had us dead this year,” Kiefer said. “They looked at the seniors that left and the fact that we had some guys go pro, but when I looked around the locker room I saw a lot of talent there. I felt like the program was getting slighted a bit at the beginning of the year, so I’m happy to see how hard the guys have worked to this point.”

The game plan for USF isn’t likely to change any time they play on their home pitch. All indications are that the team plans on following what they’ve done all season.

“We’re going to approach this one like any other match,” Kiefer said. “We don’t know much about Colgate, but we’ll look at the tapes and figure it out. Tomorrow we’ll see what we can do in training and go from there.”