Villanova did Sunday what no Big East team had been able to do to the USF men’s soccer team this season. A 1-0 victory for the Wildcats in the Big East quarterfinals at Corbett Soccer Stadium ruined the Bulls’ previously sterling conference record.
This wasn’t the same Bulls team that had pulled off an 11-game unbeaten streak. This was not even the same Bulls team that took down Villanova on Oct. 22. This was the Bulls team that hadn’t surfaced since the middle of September – a sluggish, slightly off bunch, unable to create an effective offense.
With a trip to New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena for the Big East semifinals on the line, the Bulls (12-3-3, 7-1-2) came up short, losing in their rematch with the Wildcats (8-8-4. 3-6-1), thanks to a flat showing from start to finish.
“We’ll see who the men are now,” graduate student goalkeeper Chris Blais said. “We haven’t been able to score in our last two games after scoring all season long. We’re going to have a couple of weeks now, and we can point fingers, or we can work hard and try to make a run in the NCAA tournament.”
Blais was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the third minute of play, when VU midfielder Kyle Soroka took an early free kick and finished in the lower right corner for what would prove to be the deciding goal.
“I don’t like to comment before I see it on tape, but it looked like it just went through a mass of people,” USF coach George Kiefer said. “We have to work better defensively, making sure we don’t foul in a position that sets them up for an easy free kick.”
The Bulls’ best opportunity came with 95 seconds remaining, when junior forward Stiven Salinas lined up a shot from 23 yards out. His shot was tipped away by a diving John Fogarty, who made four saves to keep the Bulls off the scoreboard.
“John has been so big for us,” Villanova coach Tom Carlin said. “You look back at our best performances – our wins against Notre Dame and St. John’s, when we tied Santa Barbara – those were really his best games.”
Despite a 2-1 loss in their previous visit, the Wildcats’ experience playing the Bulls at Corbett Soccer Stadium was important for the team’s success in their rematch.
“It helped us big time,” Carlin said. “I mean, last time we had a certain game plan, and, obviously, it didn’t work. Both of (the Bulls’) goals came on set pieces, so that was something that we concentrated on and it helped us.”
As for the Bulls, their Big East tournament run was ended early, but their season is far from over. In one week, after the completion of conference tournaments, the 48 teams who will play in the NCAA tournament will be announced.
USF is all but guaranteed a spot in the tournament field – the only question will be the seeding. Sitting at fifth in the current RPI rankings, the Bulls will need to be in the top 16 to guarantee a first-round bye and one home game. If they can stay in the top eight, they will have two home games.
“The blessing behind this is this is the Big East tournament,” Kiefer said. “It gives us an opportunity to rest some guys and get ready for the NCAA tournament. This could be a good wake-up call for us. It could be exactly what we needed.”