USF battles to draw against Florida Atlantic to wrap up home stand

The Bulls will have a one-game road trip against Miami on Sunday before coming back home for a Sept. 16 matchup against the East Carolina Pirates. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The USF women’s soccer team sputtered en route to a 1-1 tie with Florida Atlantic on Thursday night, wrapping up a six-game home stand with just three wins. 

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said after the game. “[We are] a tremendously seasoned team with a ton of talent and experience. [Three wins from six] is not the record you want.”

The Bulls’ offense appeared stagnant throughout the match, lacking the level of execution the coaching staff would have liked to see.

“I’m not angry about the work effort,” Schilte-Brown said. “I’m a little bit frustrated with the lack of focus and discipline on the tactics.”

A quick glance at the stat sheet paints a picture of a match that USF was unlucky to not win. The Bulls peppered the Owls’ goal with 23 shots and forced their keeper into eight saves. 

Senior midfielder Paula Leblic, who provided the assist for the opening goal, thought it was just a matter of time before the Bulls found a game winner.

“I [felt like a goal] was coming. I truly believe in this team,” she said. “[But] we have to win these types of games.”

In the first 20 minutes, USF provided a consistent threat to the FAU defense down the left. Leblic, in combination with sophomore midfielder Rosalia Muino Gonzalez and junior forward Sydny Nasello, had the Owls on their heels. The pressure paid off when Leblic’s cross found Nasello’s head in the 13th minute for her fourth goal of the season. 

But as the game wore on, the Bulls started to lean too much on just one side of the attack.

“The goal was to get [the ball] from one side [of the field] to the other,” Schilte-Brown said. “[But] we tended to linger on the left-hand side. Obviously [we have] confidence in Nasello, and the connection [between Gonzalez] and [Leblic] is very dangerous, but we lingered too long when the [opportunities were] on the other side of the field.

“[Even if we scored again], I don’t think we’re talking about the match differently. I think we’re happier. But we still have to grow from the same things that we didn’t accomplish here today.”

The Bulls’ predictable offense gave FAU time to adapt and grow into the game. In the second half, the Owls were finally able to strike on the counterattack.

FAU forward Miracle Porter tucked away the equalizer in the 64th minute, and the Bulls’ response was not up to par for Leblic.

“I think we had control of the game [in the first half,] but after the goal, we started panicking somehow,” she said. “We started playing long balls and we started getting tired. We know [FAU] plays on the counter, they are a direct team. We just have to be tougher in the box.”

The Bulls have now allowed eight goals in six games this season, a far cry from last season’s formidable defense that kept a program-record nine shutouts.

“Last [season] in the first eight games we [gave up] two goals,” Leblic said. “We’re doing something wrong in defense and we have to fix it.”

With just one more nonconference game before AAC play starts, the Bulls will look to use these performances to adapt before the results start counting toward their conference standing.

“We have to [qualify] for the [AAC] tournament to make the NCAA [tournament], that’s our goal.” Leblic said. “The time to lose, to tie, to learn, is now. We have to move forward and [think about playing Miami]. After Miami, we’ll see what comes.”

“We’ve learned a lot [tonight] and I think we’re going to grow from it,” Schilte-Brown said. “I know that we can be a better team from the experiences that we had here at home.”

The Bulls’ first road trip will take them down to Coral Gables for a matchup with the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. and can be seen on the ACC Network.