Bulls face task of rebuilding attack

Stephen Rudderham is expected to be a key in USF’s attack this season.  ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Last season, Tomasz Skublak and Alex Zis combined for 14 goals and 10 assists for USF men’s soccer.

Both players have since left the Bulls, with Skublak joining the Canadian Premier League’s Halifax Wanderers and Zis returning to Guelph University in his native Canada. 

There is now a significant hole in USF’s forward line.

Senior forward Stephen Rudderham is all too familiar with the revolving door at USF.

“There’s been a lot of turnover since my freshman year,” Rudderham said. “Really, just two players are there from my freshman year.”

Two likely candidates to assume the roles Skublak and Zis once occupied are the only upperclassmen forwards on the team: Rudderham and Adrian Billhardt.

“[Billhardt] likes the ball more to his feet, whereas I kind of like to run a little bit more and get in behind the defenders, so we work well there together,” Rudderham said. 

Although a pair of experienced players in the front line is favorable, Rudderham and Billhardt lack the playing time with each other and it will take some time for both players to become familiar with each other’s style.

“This is one of the first times we’ve played together … as the two forwards,” Rudderham said.

Regardless, coach Bob Butehorn expects Rudderham to make a significant impact on the pitch this season, given his versatility.

“He is pretty flexible in a number of different ways,” Butehorn said. “I think he can play wide, I think he can play as a striker, I think he can score goals … two years ago you wouldn’t expect him to be contributing the way he will be this year.”

As for who will replicate Skublak and Zis’ goal-scoring abilities, nothing is set in stone yet. 

The team is dealing with eight injuries heading into the season, according to Butehorn, which will shake up the starting lineups early.

“Right now, I don’t know who’s going to take those roles of scoring goals, but hopefully someone will,” Butehorn said.

Aside from his veteran options, Butehorn has been impressed with his new attacking options. Butehorn singled out freshman forward Victor Claudel, saying to watch for him this season. Claudel previously played for RC Strasbourg Pro Academy in France’s Ligue 1.

“He’s going to be good,” Butehorn said.

As for the defense, freshman Salvatore Mazzaferro and sophomore Javain Brown both made their debuts in the Bulls’ first exhibition game against Eastern Florida State College. 

Butehorn praised the defenders’ performances and is convinced they will both play a major role on USF’s backline.

“Both those guys played very well,” Butehorn said. “Overall, I think [Mazzaferro] gave us I think just exactly what we knew he’s going to give us. Kind of a steady kid, nothing flashy but steady and consistent.”

USF’s season starts with a bang as the team travels to Maryland to take on the 2018 national champions Thursday evening. The Bulls then face a tough string of matches before conference play. 

In spite of the injuries and the lack of experienced attack, Butehorn feels his squad is up to the test.

“I think each time we play there’s another kind of, I think, a quiz that we’ve passed or failed, Butehorn said. “We’re hoping to get a good rhythm in and be ready. I think we’ll be ready for Maryland … we follow that with Marquette, Louisville and Ohio State, so no resting points.”