Bulls to face well-balanced Central Connecticut State in NCAA tournament’s first round

Junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez (above) has 29 saves through 11 games this season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The USF women’s soccer team will take the pitch Tuesday afternoon against Central Connecticut State in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Bryan Park Soccer Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina.

CCSU (7-0, 6-0 NEC) currently has the top-ranked defense in the nation in terms of goals-against average as it has only allowed one goal all season, which came against Mount St. Mary’s on April 13 in a match where starting junior goalkeeper Amanda McQuillan didn’t play.

The Bulls (9-0-2, 6-0-1 AAC) also have one of the nation’s best defenses as they have posted six shutouts in 11 games and have not allowed more than one goal in a game all season.

Anchored by junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez, the Bulls have the seventh-ranked defense in DI women’s soccer, with a .350 goals-against average. Meanwhile, USF is tied with nine other teams at 47th in scoring offense, averaging 2.0 goals per game. 

The Bulls will need that defense Tuesday because in addition to CCSU’s defensive prowess, it also averages 2.71 goals per game, slightly trailing traditional powerhouses like Florida State and North Carolina. 

Despite only playing a total of seven games due to COVID-19-related cancellations, CCSU has scored 19 goals and won four of its matches by at least three goals. 

Without a player in the top 150 of the nation’s goal scorers, coach Mick D’Arcy’s squad gets offensive contributions from all over the field.

“I think the best part of their team is probably their attacking unit,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said Monday on Athletic Director Michael Kelly’s podcast “Bull Speed Ahead.” 

“They have their three forwards and their attacking center mid all with accolades and very good statistics.”

The heart of the attacking unit that Schilte-Brown referred to consists of junior midfielder Roma McLaughlin, freshman forward Kelly Brady and senior midfielder/forward Jenna Rae Covello. McLaughlin and Brady currently have four goals apiece, and Covello, who is the NEC offensive player of the year, has three.

With a win over the Blue Devils, USF will advance to take on No. 7 Texas A&M in the second round of the tournament, but Schilte-Brown is not overlooking the Bulls’ upcoming opponent.

“We don’t talk about the next team because this team is going to take everything we have to get the win,” Schilte-Brown said.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. The game will be livestreamed on YouTube by the Tourbeau Sports Network.