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Bulls fall 2-1 to LSU on last-minute goal

Junior forward Sydny Nasello scored a penalty in her second consecutive game in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the LSU Tigers. ORACLE PHOTO/FRANCISCO ROSA

It had been 697 days since the No. 11/15 USF women’s soccer team last tasted defeat in front of a home crowd, but that streak ended Thursday evening. The loss was made even more bitter by the manner in which it occurred, conceding a last-minute game winner to LSU.

The Bulls (2-1) were just 30 seconds from forcing overtime, but LSU (3-0) took advantage of a late lapse in focus by the Bulls’ defense to steal a late 2-1 victory Thursday at Corbett Stadium. It’s USF’s first home loss since falling to Memphis in September 2019.

“I think [the late goal] was just a lack of focus, a lack of clearing out [the ball],” senior defender Chyanne Dennis said. “It was just soft.”

Just before the goal, space opened up for a Tiger forward, who was able to beat junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez with a deft chip over her right shoulder.

“I think it was just a bad break,” Martinez said. “We’re pretty solid on defense. We just couldn’t get the ball cleared fast enough and they just had a really good opportunity.”

The Bulls struggled to make an impression early. The Tigers were quick to press and win back possession, making themselves a nuisance to USF’s controlling style of soccer.

“It was a challenging game for us mentally,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “I think [the subpar first-half performance] was a culmination of fatigue. I don’t think we handled it very well emotionally.”

In the 12th minute, the Tigers drove toward the right side of Martinez’s penalty box. A cutback cross evaded several defenders before landing at the feet of LSU’s Athena Kuehn, who controlled before slotting home the opening goal to the keeper’s left.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t step fast enough to get to [the pass] and it was just a really good finish,” Martinez said.

The remainder of the first half was more of the same, the Bulls on their heels much more than they’re used to. Martinez was forced to make four saves in the first 45 minutes, more than she’s had to make in either of the first two matches of the season.

In the second half, however, things appeared to change for the Bulls.

Before the late heartbreak, USF managed to come back from one down thanks to a 66th minute penalty by junior forward Sydny Nasello. She dispatched the spot kick in the top right corner, sending the LSU goalkeeper the wrong way in the process. Freshman forward/midfielder Kendall Lincoln won the penalty after dribbling around a defender on the edge of the area before being brought down.

“It was a clear penalty,” Schilte-Brown said. “[I’m] glad the referee called it.”

There was plenty for the USF coaching staff to fix during the intermission, and the team responded, despite the unfavorable outcome in the end.

“I felt like the girls, at halftime, changed their mentality,” Schilte-Brown said. “They came out with good leadership, peer leadership.

“Maybe it’s the best thing that ever happens to us [this season]. Good teams need to have moments like this to learn and grow.”

The Bulls now prepare for a Sunday matinee matchup against Kentucky, the latest in a string of SEC opponents for USF. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game will be streamed live on ESPN+.