Bulls land in NCAA field as No. 7 seed

For the USF men’s soccer team, the road to the College Cup will begin in the familiar surroundings of Corbett Soccer Stadium.

The 48-team field for the NCAA tournament was revealed Monday afternoon. Team members watched from the Athletics building as USF was named the No. 7 national seed, meaning the Bulls have the right to host two matches.

“I think (being a national seed) is a credit to the guys, the schedule we played and the conference we play in,” coach George Kiefer said. “I think it’s great. I know Florida Gulf Coast and UCF – those are very good teams and we look forward to seeing who wins that game.”

The Bulls (12-3-3) open the tournament Sunday at 6 p.m. against the winner of the Florida Gulf Coast-Central Florida first-round matchup. The Knights (11-5-3) host that game Thursday night in Orlando.

Regardless of who wins that game, USF will see a familiar opponent. USF was knocked out of the tournament in the first-round last year by UCF. The Bulls beat FGCU (12-5-2) 2-0 in Fort Myers on Oct. 4.

By game time, the Bulls will have had two weeks off since their last game, Nov. 6 against Villanova. Kiefer said he had the Bulls play an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday to avoid getting rusty.

“(The scrimmage) took until the second overtime to get the winner,” he said. “We wear heart rate monitors and the numbers in that game were actually higher than in the last Villanova game, so that was … a very good game for us. Guys are getting healthy, too. We were really banged up toward the end of the season.”

The Big East is well-represented in the field, with four national seeds among the seven total conference teams to qualify. No. 3 Connecticut, No. 9 St. John’s and No. 12 Louisville are joined by unseeded Providence, Rutgers and West Virginia.

No other conference put in as many teams as the Big East, though the Atlantic Coast Conference has six entrants, led by No. 1-overall seed North Carolina.

“The Big East is, to me, the best conference in the country,” Kiefer said. “It’s not just the talent of the teams, but navigating the facilities and the climates and all that. I think it’s well deserved that the Big East does have top seeds.”

Graduate student goalkeeper Chris Blais has the most NCAA tournament experience, having led Michigan to the national semifinals last season, including a win over potential opponent UCF.

“It’s the same things that always help you win soccer games that help you go far in the tournament,” Blais said. “So, I’ll try to get those points across and make sure we just focus on Sunday and give it all we have for 90 minutes.”

Should USF advance past its first game, a potential matchup with unbeaten No. 10 New Mexico (17-0-3) at Corbett Soccer Stadium awaits.