Bulls lose AAC tournament final on penalty kicks

Despite losing to Memphis in the AAC tournament final Sunday, the Bulls still have a good chance of making the NCAA tournament due to their high rating percentage index. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

A packed Corbett Stadium was mostly stunned into silence Sunday as those in attendance watched the USF women’s soccer team lose to Memphis in the AAC Tournament final on penalty kicks. 

The Bulls aimed to win their third consecutive tournament title, first on home soil, but fell short as they missed all three of their attempts from the spot while the Tigers converted all their chances.

“I think we had control for most of the game and the girls put in the body of work we asked them to and produced a few chances that would have been nice if we put away, but [penalty kicks] is like this,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said.

Very little separated USF and Memphis over the course of the 110 minutes of play with the Tigers holding a 15-14 advantage on shots and the Bulls a 7-6 edge on shots on target, both teams had five corner kicks apiece.

With the score knotted at 0-0 at the end of regulation, the teams headed to two sudden death overtime periods where neither was able to get the golden goal needed to seal the victory and a penalty shootout would decide the fate of the match.

USF elected to start the shootout with junior Sydny Nasello, who’s attempt was saved by Memphis keeper Elizabeth Moberg. Nasello was 4-of-5 from the spot going into the game for the season. 

Junior Rosalia Muino Gonzalez and senior Katie Kitching were the next in line for USF and ultimately met the same fate as Nasello with Gonzalez’s shot being saved and Kitching’s attempt sailing over the bar.

All three of Memphis’ penalty kickers were faultless, converting each of their attempts past USF goalkeeper Sydney Martinez.

Losing in such disappointing fashion could be debilitating for a team like USF, which likely has the NCAA Tournament on its horizon, but Schilte-Brown’s message to the team is to throw this game away and hold their heads high.

“Throw it in the garbage and move forward,” Schilte-Brown said. “They’re regular-season champions, they didn’t lose in the game, they lost in [penalty kicks] and we hit the reset button. I’d be happy to go into [penalty kicks] again, I don’t think it’d be the same result.”

With the loss, the Bulls will miss out on the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but will likely still secure a spot due to their high rating percentage index (RPI), which ranks teams based off of their wins, losses and strength of schedule. USF currently has the 24th-best RPI in the country.

For the Bulls to be successful throughout the rest of the postseason, the loss to Memphis needs to become a distant memory, not seen as a bump in the road but rather a learning opportunity that they’ll use against their next opponent.

“It’s important that we don’t see it as a roadblock, ” Nasello said. “We came and we didn’t get the result, but if you dwell on that you’re not going to be successful moving forward. So it’s kind of just take away the pieces, especially for me. I didn’t have the best game I could have had today, and I felt like I was kind of in a mental battle with myself and it affected me and my teammates.

“But I can’t dwell on that going forward or it’s not going to benefit anyone. So I think for us, we’re just going to watch the film, see the breakdown, where we could have been more clinical in the game and use that going forward for whoever we play next.”

Martinez echoed Nasello’s sentiment, emphasizing there’s still a long way to go for the team to reach its ultimate goal.

“Even though we lost today, like coach said, we’re still in the tournament, luckily. Second part of the season starts [on Monday,]” Martinez said. “[On Monday] we hit it hard and we keep going and keep trying to make it all the way.”

Despite the disappointment, it’s not lost on Schilte-Brown the sustained excellence that her program has had over the last few seasons. USF has made each of the last three AAC Tournament finals, won it twice and has won either the regular season or tournament title for five straight seasons.

“I think it’s a great legacy,” Schilte-Brown said.

The Bulls will find out if they made the NCAA tournament during the selection show Monday at 4:30. The show will be streamed live on NCAA.com.