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Bulls, seniors advance to semifinals

 

Senior defender Ben Sweat is a part of the USF men’s soccer defense that helped earn the team its third straight shutout against Temple in a 1-0 American Athletic Conference (AAC) quarterfinal victory Saturday, but Sweat said he enjoyed the win for another reason.

“I think everything we’ve been doing at the end of the season is great,” Sweat said. “It’s going to be even better when we get into our tournament more because every game could be our last.”

With Temple earning home field advantage in the AAC tournament, Sweat said he felt like the win earned the team momentum going forward after handing the Owls their first and only loss of the season in Philadelphia.

On the offensive side, senior forward Stiven Salinas said he felt the momentum in the second half after he scored from an opportunity the team created for him. He described it as a “fight.”

“The second half wasn’t as much about soccer but more about how bad we wanted it,” Salinas said. “In the second half, Temple came back trying to win the game, but it was more of a fight during a soccer game.”

The Bulls have been in fight mode since their last loss against UCF on Oct. 23, who also reached the tournament semifinals.

Shortly after losing, they had a commanding 4-1 victory against fellow conference team SMU on Oct. 26 followed by a win against Detroit Mercy before shutting out No. 7 Louisville in a 0-0 tie.

The game against Temple was no different. The Bulls grounded the Owl’s aerial assault of long air balls by clearing plays down to the grounding and constantly touching the ball with their feet.

It’s this style of play that the team looks to take to Frisco.

“We’ll be on a big field, nice surface and good environment,” Sweat said. “We’ll be able to play our style of football and I think if we finish on top of that with the way the defense has been and the goalkeeping has been, I think that’s the final piece right there.”

This consistent display of defense helps the Bulls stand out from their offensive statistical stalemate with upcoming semifinal opponent Rutgers.

While the Scarlet Knights lead the AAC in saves per game, both teams are tied for third in goals and fourth in assists.

Even with the upset that Rutgers accomplished against Louisville, Salinas sees the goal of playing in the tournament beyond the numbers and focuses on taking what the team has been doing well into winning the title. No matter who the Bulls face, he said, USF has been doing things that will match up well against any conference opponent.

“We just want to get them out of the way because we are on to bigger things,” Salinas said.

The Bulls will face Rutgers in Frisco, Texas for the AAC Tournament semifinals Friday.