Bulls finally meet Tar Heels in NCAA tournament


North Carolina turned down several offers from USF to play a regular season soccer match.

But with the 2013 NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament bracket created, the Tar Heels will have no choice but to face the Bulls (8-3-9) after earning an at-large bid against the American Athletic Conference tournament champions.

“I told the team (the NCAA tournament qualification) is a great accomplishment,” coach George Kiefer said. “Now we have to make a choice. Are you happy with what’s going on or do you want to go to a place like Chapel Hill, who won’t even schedule us and wouldn’t invite us to come there?”

North Carolina (8-5-5) was one of six teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference to earn a seed, their 14th appearance in the tournament in the past
15 seasons.

“Sometimes you draw an opponent where, as a coach, you are worried if the team will overlook them,” Kiefer said. “No one is overlooking Chapel Hill.”

The Tar Heel defense is recognized both among the conference and nation with junior defender Boyd Okwuonu as the ACC Defender of the Year. Junior goalkeeper Brendan Moore is ranked in the NCAA with the 11th fewest goals allowed on average.

In the 12th position behind Moore is USF senior goalkeeper Brentton Muhammad, who made the fingertip save on the final PK UConn attempted, which earned the Bulls their first conference championship since 2008.

While the back four has been a key part of USF’s success, the offense began to capitalize on first half shots that turn into equalizers or early leads.

“We kept looking for little things to improve,” Kiefer said. “I think our attack now is very dynamic. It was nice to see a top team like Connecticut do things a little bit differently because they were concerned about us.”

Included in the dynamic attack is senior forward Stiven Salinas, who became the Bulls’ leading scorer after scoring in four of the last six matches played.

Kiefer said he’s taking a team that “is on fire” to play on the cold Chapel Hill night.

“We trained (Monday) and I just chuckled at some of the stuff,” Kiefer said. “It’s really playing well right now. As coaches, we are kind of just leaving it alone. Obviously, we are keeping them sharp, but they are playing well right now and we are looking forward to this game.”

When Kiefer travels with the team to Chapel Hill, USF will have a renewed sense of ambition. No longer will they focus on qualifying for the conference or winning the AAC tournament title, they are making an NCAA championship run starting in a place they weren’t welcomed into, he said.

“They have to let us (in) and give us practice time,” Kiefer said jokingly.

Jeff Negalha, who was a former assistant coach at USF, will be on the opposite side of the field dressed in the signature Tar Heel blue. But Kiefer maintains the match will be played in the spirit of healthy competition.

“There’s no bad blood between the coaches,” Kiefer said. “They play good soccer, so it should be a good game.”

USF and UNC face off at 7 p.m.