Beginning in early February, USF men’s soccer embarked on a journey to the pros.
The Bulls played against three professional teams in the past month, in which they tied 0-0 against Major League Soccer team Philadelphia Union, lost 1-0 against USL Championship side Louisville City and lost 2-1 against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Bay area’s own USL Championship club.
On paper, two losses and a draw is a sign of poor form, however, these were the Bulls’ spring games and they managed to match the level of three professional teams who are gearing up for their regular seasons.
“Apart from our bank balances, no salaries and our cars are worse, apart from that, we are just as professional as them,” USF starting goalkeeper Harrison Devenish-Meares said. “And I think that we’re just as professional as any team in the country.”
Devenish-Meares featured in the first half of the game against the Rowdies in which he made 11 saves to keep the Bulls level at halftime. He was replaced by freshman Kazuna Takase in the second half.
The Bulls professionalism didn’t just appear out of thin air. Devenish-Meares credits USF’s coaching staff, trainers, medical staff and the team’s overall tight knit culture.
“The training sessions are absolutely phenomenal, the mindset of the boys is phenomenal,” Devenish-Meares said. “Also, the medical staff and the strength staff are absolutely, 100 percent at that level, if not better than what we faced tonight.”
For the Bulls, the love of “The Beautiful Game” is what keeps them playing, which Devenish-Meares argues is more of a motivator than any sum of money. He spoke for the team when he said that performing well in college was the main goal in order to fulfill their dreams of playing for the pros.
“We’re ambitious. We want to win at the college level because we want to be propelled into the professional realm,” Devenish-Meares said. “It’s about playing well here so that I can have an opportunity afterward, and I know it’s the same for the boys too.”
Devenish-Meares jokingly mentioned he was gunning for the Rowdies’ No. 1 jersey.
“If I could swap shirts with the Rowdies’ goalkeeper tomorrow I would. I’m coming for his jersey, honestly,” he said.
Despite the loss to Tampa Bay, USF made a statement in the first ten minutes of the match when junior midfielder Stephen Rudderham fired a shot in between Rowdies’ keeper John McCarthy’s legs to put the Bulls in the lead.
The Rowdies tied up the game minutes later after a low cross from Rowdies’ midfielder Leo Fernandes met forward Sebastián Guenzatti, who dribbled past Devenish-Meares and fired the ball into the net.
All was level at one all until the 85th minute when Rowdies’ attacking midfielder Kwadwo Poku scored the match winner.
USF coach Bob Butehorn was impressed with the way his side handled playing professionals and admired the way they kept their heads down and played their hardest soccer.
“Springs are generally a little harder, a little more taxing on the body, but I think that they were a little geared up for the game and they wanted to play well,” Butehorn said.
Former Scottish defender and current Rowdies’ manager Neill Collins gave nothing but admiration for the Bulls’ squad and spoke highly of their performance.
“This is the great thing about professional sport in that you play an MLS team and the mindset, the psychology of the players are opposite of the college team. If your mindset and psychology is not the same … it can be difficult,” Collins said. “We give USF a lot more respect because we know they’re good players and I know if you don’t do a few things right you can get punished.”
Although USF’s soccer season is months away, the Bulls showed that they could perform, especially considering they’ve played a few of the top professional teams in the nation. With one more match of spring soccer left against the University of Tampa, Devenish-Meares and the team are itching to start competitive play.
“The boys want to be playing, there’s a buzz. You can just feel that we’re making progress,” he said. “I’ve been here two years … and I’ve seen that progression since coach [Butehorn] has come in and every year we’ve just gotten a little bit better. At the moment the culture is great, we’re playing excellent football. We’re not scared.