Nasello’s last-minute goal helps Bulls battle to draw on Senior Night

It took nearly 90 minutes for USF to score a goal against the Cougars, but a late penalty kick by junior forward Sydny Nasello (center) pushed the game into overtime. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The USF women’s soccer team found yet another late goal in a 1-1 overtime draw Thursday against a stout Houston defense on Senior Night.

USF (7-2-2, 2-0-1 AAC) has been no stranger to late-game dramatics this season. Just like in their matchups against Kentucky and ECU, the Bulls found a late equalizing goal against the Cougars (9-1-2, 1-0-1 AAC).

“We’d much prefer not to go to overtime but you know, it happens,” senior defender Chyanne Dennis said. “We got to make the most of it and we did. We played an amazing game today, no one should have their head down.”

Up until the 90th minute, however, overtime didn’t seem likely.

With just 45 seconds left, junior forward Sydny Nasello made one of her trademark runs into the box. A Houston defender barged into her and the referee blew for a penalty. Nasello converted her eighth goal of the season from the spot to force overtime.

“I went bottom left [on a penalty] against Kentucky, and I missed. I went top right against LSU and I made it,” Nasello said. “So there was no doubt that I was going anywhere else.”

USF found themselves in overtime for the fourth time this season. After a quiet first period of overtime, the second was anything but.

Within minutes of the restart, senior midfielder Meghan Cavanaugh had two great chances to win the game, but Houston goalkeeper Mikaela Gracia made outstanding saves on both occasions. 

“It can be difficult for us to put the ball in the back of the net at times, but we had great chances,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said.

As if the game needed any more drama, the opponents mounted one final counterattack with just minutes to go. Facing a one-on-one,  junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez rushed the player and plucked the win from Houston’s feet with an aggressive save.

“I feel like Martinez saved us on the [final] counterattack,” Schilte-Brown said. “That’s why we have [her, she’s a] great goalkeeper.”

From kickoff, the Bulls imposed their possession style, holding the ball and building patiently for minutes at a time. But a well-organized Cougar defense kept USF quiet.

“I thought it was a good start to be fair, not a slow start,” Schilte-Brown said. “I mean we had control of the game [in the first half].”

The first 25 minutes of play were dry in terms of offense. But Houston unexpectedly changed formation and capitalized before the Bulls could adjust.

A 27th-minute corner kick was misjudged by Martinez, floating over her outstretched hands and onto the head of Houston forward Zionah Browne for the opening goal.

“​​When they switched formations after about 20 minutes, we lost a little bit [of control], but then we regained it,” Schilte-Brown said.

Nasello said the team’s response to the adversity showed the depth they have on the roster.

“I don’t think there [are] starters and finishers on this team anymore because I think, on any given day, anyone can start, and the quality doesn’t drop and I think we showcased that today,” she said.

Next up for USF is the War on I-4 against UCF on Oct. 7 at 6 p.m. in Orlando.