Bulls blanked in penalty kicks, eliminated by Eagles

FGCU celebrates and USF looks on in dismay as the final penalty kick is made by the Eagles in their 3-0 PK win over the Bulls.

As soon as Nazeem Bartman’s penalty kick attempt sailed wide left of the net, FGCU forward Albert Ruiz turned to his teammates at midfield at Corbett Soccer Stadium and told them they were on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

The junior forward then stepped up and buried a shot in the upper left corner of the goal and took off running down the sideline in celebration of the Eagles’ 3-0 win in penalty kicks over USF in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night. 

“We’re just so calm, so confident,” Ruiz said. “I knew that PK was going in and I told them (before) that we were going on to the next round and that’s exactly what happened. 

“In training, everyone knows how to take PKs, but in games it’s all about how mentally calm and how confident you are, and we’re confident.”

FGCU (14-3-3) was on the offensive from the get-go, out-shooting USF six-to-two in the first half, which led to a goal by Ruiz in the 26th minute to open the scoring. 

With the Bulls trailing and the first half quickly coming to a close, senior midfielder Lindo Mfeka rocketed a ball past a defender for the equalizer in the 43rd minute. 

USF (10-6-4) remained on the attack out of the break, capitalizing eight minutes into the second half when forward Bradley Farias found a charging Marcus Epps who was wide-open for the goal. 

However in the 60th minute, Epps attempted to clear the ball away from USF’s goal, but sent the kick into a group of FGCU defenders. From the deflection, the ball trickled into the goal to tie the game at two. 

Though USF coach George Kiefer said he thought it was an own-goal on Epps, the score was ruled as a goal by FGCU midfielder Justin Gavin. 

“I think it was an own goal and that’s probably the toughest thing for me is because when you’re a player that makes a mistake like that, it really hurts the player and that hurts me,” Kiefer said. “Obviously he was really upset leaving the match, but I rubbed his shoulder and told him there’s guys who make $40 million a year that on any given Saturday can make a similar error.

“But as a coach, it’s tough because there’s not too much that I can say to get that anguish off of him. So, that bothers me a bit. It was just a simple mistake.”

Following the FGCU goal, both teams locked down for a long defensive battle that went all the way to the final horn. 

USF missed all three of its first penalty kicks and the Eagles made three of four attempts to advance to play North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.