While missing a conference tournament might prove to be a season-ending blow for some teams, for the USF mens soccer team it may have been a blessing in disguise.
Despite not making the Big East Tournament, the Bulls will play at least one home game in the NCAA Tournament, with a chance for a second, beginning tonight against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
I would never want to de-emphasize the Big East, coach George Kiefer said. Obviously you want to win in conference. But if you look at Florida Gulf Coast, theyve played three games in the last six days. We got a chance to work out our depth for 90 minutes when we hosted the U-17 national team a week ago. To me, thats a better soccer rhythm than playing three games in six days.
The Bulls face a familiar opponent in Florida Gulf Coast, a team that USF beat 3-0 at home Sept. 25, but Kiefer said the Eagles could still be in for a surprise.
I dont know that weve shown Florida Gulf Coast the real soccer crowd at Corbett, he said. We had about 1,000 people here when they played last. I dont think theyll be ready for what will be out there.
Though the crowd may be a unique experience for the Eagles, it wont be for USF, as the Bulls are hosting their third NCAA Tournament game in two seasons at Corbett Soccer Stadium.
The Bulls will have a chance to host a second game as well, as a win over the Eagles would mean that USF would host Tulsa a team the Bulls beat 2-1 earlier in the season on Sunday.
The opportunity to host two NCAA Tournament games for the second straight season may come as a surprise after the team lost its first three Big East games, ending a conference winning streak, and hit rock bottom with a loss to DePaul in the final game of the season giving DePaul its only conference win.
Kiefer credited senior leaders for keeping the team on track and ready to get back to the field after the extended break.
There were a lot of points where they could have thrown the towel in or worked against each other, so coaches and leaders had to step up, he said. When you hit adversity you see what team you have. As a coach, you always look for teaching points, because if you just win soccer games, your players may not always come out as better men. When they face adversity later in life, maybe they can look to their experiences during the season to help them.
Kiefer and the Bulls will take on the Eagles tonight at 7.