Despite a younger roster and the loss of a senior keeper, the USF womens soccer team has displayed a trait that may have been lacking in a disappointing 2011 campaign maturity.
Through 16 games, the Bulls have already won four more games than in 2011, and have shown an ability to win games late in regulation, which was largely absent a season ago when the team played in nine overtime games, going 2-3-4 in the process.
The new mentality of finishing was evident from the first game of the season, an exhibition match against Florida Gulf Coast. Junior forward Sharla Passariello headed in a goal with 2:10 to play that gave USF a 3-2 victory and set the tone for the teams upcoming season.
After beating Miami with a 51st-minute goal from Passareillo who has helped the teams turnaround with a stellar junior campaign that includes seven goals and three assists for a team leading 17 points the Bulls scored two goals in the final 20 minutes of play to beat the College of Charleston on the road.
A loss and draw to start the teams conference season have been followed by a seven-game stretch of undefeated play, six wins and a draw. The season-altering streak has been defined by the teams ability to win late games, with four 1-0 wins.
A large part of the teams success lately has been the defenses ability to keep games close until the offense can find an opportunity to put a goal on the board.
So far this season, the Bulls are averaging .66 goals allowed per game, and have nine shutouts good for second in the Big East. In 2011, the Bulls gave up 1.28 goals per game and finished with just four clean sheets despite senior Nicole McClures play at keeper.
It doesnt seem like USF has missed McClures presence, however, thanks to the play of freshman Christiane Endler, whose international experience playing for the Chilean national team seems to have prepared her for the pressure of the Big East conference.
Endler is not the only player who deserves credit, however, as the teams defensive back line has relieved pressure from the keeper by preventing quality shots. Despite ranking second in the conference in clean sheets, USF ranks eighth in the Big East with 65 saves.
If the Bulls can continue their recipe of keeping games close with their defense and winning late with their offense, a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after USF broke through for the first time in 2010 will not be far away.
The idea of being clutch is not often associated with teams that have a freshman in the net and 19 underclassmen on the roster, but the Bulls have set that exact tone for the 2012 season with big wins late in games.