Freshmen shine in season-opening win against Jacksonville

Junior midfielder Henrique Gallina scored two goals in USF’s 4-1 win over Jacksonville on Thursday. ORACLE PHOTO/FRANCISCO ROSA

The Bulls opened their 2021 season with a dominant 4-1 win against Jacksonville University on Thursday at Corbett Stadium, thanks in large part to the work of some of the team’s youngest members. 

Three first-half goals from freshman midfielder Shion Soga, junior midfielder Henrique Gallina and freshman forward Oscar Resano saw the home side in complete control, a welcome sign for coach Bob Butehorn.

“For the first game, I couldn’t be unhappy because we got the win,” he said. “They deserved this win for their commitment on both sides of the ball. A lot of the young guys also played well.”

Another young standout was freshman goalkeeper Ralph Montero, who made his collegiate debut. 

“He’s very good with the ball at his feet,” said Butehorn. “He is calm at the back and can make some great saves to help this team out. I liked what I’ve seen from him.”

For Montero, his debut was something he thought to be unimaginable. 

“If you would’ve asked me five years ago if I was going to be playing college soccer, I would have no idea on what answer to give you,” Montero said. “It’s been a crazy journey and a long ride. All those long days and long nights. … I’m happy to be part of this organization.”

Although he couldn’t keep a clean sheet on his debut, he helped his team stifle the Dolphins’ offense.

USF’s roster doesn’t contain any seniors this season, but team captain Gallina stepped up to fill the leadership role as he finished with two goals and an assist.

After missing out last season entirely due to an injury, he couldn’t wait for the moment to step back on the field. 

“I was sad for missing out on last season and it was a long road for me,” said Gallina. “I’ve been waiting all week for this game. I’ve been working on getting into good positions to score goals. We deserved this win because everyone was on the same page and we’re now building confidence into the team.”

Soga got the Bulls on the front foot in the opening 20 minutes as he headed a ball into the net from a cross by freshman forward JT Copper.

Later in the half, the Bulls scored two more goals within three minutes. The second was scored by Gallina as he showed skill in beating his opponent before getting his shot on goal. USF’s third goal was scored by freshman forward Resano as he chipped the ball over the visitors’ goalkeeper from a lobbed through ball by Gallina.

The Bulls started the second half on a shaky note, conceding a goal within the opening 10 minutes as junior forward Reed Davis from the Dolphins headed in a cross by senior defender Jose Manzo, but they were quick to rediscover their first-half form.

USF added a fourth goal five minutes later with Gallina getting on the scoresheet once again. A low cross from freshman forward Josh Gomina landed at the feet of the Bulls’ captain before he beat his defender to get a shot on goal.

Ultimately, the win was a good way for the Bulls to kick-start their season, and Butehorn said he feels good heading into the rest of the season.

“We were really energetic and competitive,” said Butehorn. “We were very committed and put them under pressure and we were really aggressive moving forward. It’s still just the first game, but I’m happy with today and we move forward.”

Next up for the Bulls is UNC Wilmington on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. at Corbett Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.