The USF men’s soccer team lost 2-1 against Memphis on Friday in its final home game of the season, also serving as Senior Night for six current and former Bulls.
It was a bittersweet moment for USF (4-5) fans, watching the team lose a heartbreaker in the 108th minute, while also celebrating the careers of defender Freddy Gil, winger Trey Jackson, midfielders Josue Monge and Diego Guerrero, as well as former Bulls Adrian Billhardt and Avionne Flanagan.
Billhardt and Flanagan are currently no longer with the squad, as they have moved on to professional ventures, but the team used Friday night as a proper send off for the two.
The loss marks the second consecutive overtime defeat for the Bulls, extending their losing streak to three games after winning their previous four.
Coach Bob Butehorn said he didn’t believe his team performed at the level it has shown in previous matches.
“We didn’t have that fight we had in the last game,” Butehorn said. “All due respect to Memphis and [Richard Mulrooney’s] team, they were better than us in the second half tonight. They created more chances and [junior goalkeeper Kazuna Takase] made some great saves to keep us in it.
“I just think we had a really tough time figuring out the wind, really tough time figuring out the game. And it was disappointing, it was a disappointing game for us in all facets.”
Early on, however, things looked to be going in USF’s favor. After a couple of missed chances early in the game’s opening 45 minutes, the Bulls got the ball rolling with the first goal of the game off the foot of freshman midfielder Shion Soga who knocked in a close range rebound in the 6-yard box.
The Bulls had a couple more opportunities to extend their lead early in the second half, but could not ultimately convert their chances, a shortcoming that would later come back to bite them.
In the 69th minute, sophomore midfielder Emanuel Santos of Memphis leveled the game at one a piece after putting a ball in the back of the net.
Santos was able to pounce after a miscommunication between junior defender Marcus Murphy and Takase left an easy opportunity for Santos to lob the ball over Takase for a goal.
As the game went into overtime, Santos struck again in the 108th minute, breaking the hearts of Bulls fans by scoring the game-winning goal.
Butehorn said the team needs to accept they had a bad day, put this one in the rearview mirror and move on to the next.
“We need to understand it was a bad game, teams sometimes play a bad game,” Butehorn said. “The only way to go is forward, the only way to approach it is to move on and to learn … So, it’ll be a tough one for the guys to kind of get through, but they’re going to have to.”
Sophomore forward Victor Claudel, who logged his second assist of the season in the loss, said he believes he needs to be more clinical in the final third to help his team get the win.
“For myself, I feel like I just had opportunities to score and I should take more ownership and responsibility sometimes,” Claudel said. “I just think [in] the second half the momentum turned and there was no one to blame or no excuses to take. It was just a bad performance from us in the second half.”
Although the Bulls have now lost three straight, including two overtime heartbreakers, Claudel said he still thinks the team is capable of turning things around in time for the upcoming AAC tournament.
“This year we have a team that bounces back very well,” he said. “We lost two games in a row, [one] with a huge loss, and then we bounced back to win four games in a row [earlier this season].
“We’ve already been in this position, like sitting back to the wall. So, I feel for us that we’re going to be fine.”
With one game left to play in the regular season, the Bulls sit in fourth place in the AAC behind UCF, Tulsa and SMU, in that order.
USF will wrap up the regular season against the Golden Hurricane on April 9th in the Hurricane Soccer and Track Stadium in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.