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Second-half defensive woes cost Bulls in War on I-4

USF keeper Ralph Montero (right) took responsibility for one of USF’s defensive miscues in its 3-2 loss to UCF on Wednesday. ORACLE PHOTO/FRANCISCO ROSA

A couple of unforced defensive errors ultimately cost the USF men’s soccer team in a 3-2 loss to UCF in the first War on I-4 matchup of the season Wednesday night.

“In all honesty, I thought the game pretty much went to our script,” coach Bob Butehorn said. “Other than the soft goals [we let in], which seems to be [a result of] our immaturity a little bit.”

Both of the Knights’ (5-3, 3-0 AAC) goals in the second half came due to lapses from the Bulls’ (2-5-1, 0-3 AAC) defensive unit.

Already down 1-0, a misplaced pass in the 48th minute led to a 3-on-1 counterattack for the visitors. The goal was easily converted by sophomore substitute Ariel Hadar with a tap-in past freshman goalkeeper Ralph Montero to open a two-goal lead.

“It was a bad pass,” Butehorn said. “A soft pass in a bad spot and [Hadar] picked it. Maybe I could have scored that.”

In the 52nd minute, a long ball from Montero was headed back and misjudged by the Bulls, leading to another quick counter for their rivals. This time, UCF sophomore Lucca Dourado sprinted toward goal uncontested and scored a third for the Knights, a goal Montero took responsibility for.

“I hit it kind of toward the middle of the field, which I’m not really supposed to do,” he said. “But since I hit down the middle, it got headed right back toward us, past the defensive line and then it was just a [one-on-one] from there. So there’s definitely things I could work on in that play.”

In between UCF’s second-half goals, the Bulls caught a lifeline from freshman forward Oscar Resano. The Mexico City native found himself in a bit of space outside the penalty area and blasted one past the UCF keeper, giving the Bulls and the crowd at Corbett Stadium some much-needed energy. 

It was Resano’s second goal of the season, tied for the team lead.

USF continued to respond well, opening up the UCF defense more often and creating more opportunities to score. An 86th minute goal by sophomore forward Victor Claudel made things interesting late. He tucked away his first goal of the campaign amid a goalmouth scramble. 

“I think when we started applying pressure on them, [it made] them really uncomfortable,” Claudel said. “I think we put up a good fight.”

The Bulls built on that pressure all the way to the end. A last-minute free kick forced a difficult save from redshirt freshman keeper Tyler Lavigne, but the equalizing goal never materialized.

“I love the energy of the group, especially coming out in the second half,” Butehorn said. “[We almost had] a chance to tie it up there in the end and the keeper made a great save.”

USF remains winless in conference play, dropping its third straight game. Both previous losses were against top-10 opposition in No. 7 SMU and No. 9 Tulsa.

“It’s been a rough three games,” Montero said. “But it’s a learning experience every single game and I’ve learned a lot, especially as an incoming freshman. So, it’s been a great experience, but we have to be up from here.”

The overall message from Butehorn and his staff after the match was positive. With a rematch against Tulsa in the cards Sunday, he hopes his team will learn from Wednesday’s loss.

“I think that there’s some growth that [will happen] but hopefully it’s timely and it comes in the shape and form of a win,” Butehorn said.

The Bulls will travel to Tulsa for their rematch against the Golden Hurricane on Sunday at 8 p.m.