We interrupt the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments to talk about a USF team that's having a great season: the men's soccer team. The Elite Eight matches their deepest post-season run ever, and they have a chance to make their first ever College Cup with a win today. Here's how they can accomplish that:
1. Don't be defeated by the weather. The current forecast calls for the dreaded wintry mix, with game time temps near freezing. Morten Benestad and Marius Krathe should feel right at home (they're from Norway), but I hope the coaching staff is mentally preparing the rest of the squad for difficult conditions. It's going to be colder, dryer, and possibly wetter than that nasty trip to Syracuse in October. If the football team can be rattled by 62 degrees with average humidity and moderate wind, the winter weather in Omaha has to be a serious concern.
2. Mind your fundamentals. Pass, trap, and defend cleanly at all times, because Creighton makes you pay for sloppiness like no team I've ever seen. In the middle third, they press constantly, turn every errant pass into a possession, and win more than their share of headers (despite not being a tall team). Any aimless long ball will be collected and sent back upfield by their flat back four, like the flippers on a pinball machine. When New Mexico increased the midfield pressure on USF in the second half of that game, they created more chances for themselves, and made it tougher to get Dom Dwyer the ball. Creighton will bring that all day long. USF needs to be ready for it, with quick, decisive passing and decision making. And mind your spacing on defense: Creighton is adept at finding and exploiting any uncovered areas in the box.
3. Work the touchlines. The drawback of Creighton's aggressive approach to midfield defense is that it is narrow. They play what looks like a 4-3-3, with two lines of three midfielders and three forwards looking to disrupt any buildup by the opposition. But their midfielders are relatively near the center of the field, and their outside backs don't come forward much. If USF can effectively spray balls to the wings and outside fullbacks, they can draw Creighton's defenders away from the middle, and make the team's overall pressure defense less effective. Two USF players that could contribute here: Aubrey Perry, who showed a lot of versatility from right back in the New Mexico win, and Stiven Salinas, with his speed and dribbling ability down the left.
4. Don't get behind. In 13 home games this season, including the Missouri Valley Conference and NCAA playoffs, Creighton has conceded a grand total of 2 goals. Both came late in games where the Bluejays were up 2-0, and went on to win. Creighton's style is to dominate possession and aggressively disrupt opposing attacks in midfield. They do this so well that their goalkeeper Brian Holt rarely has to do much. It took Northern Illinois 38 minutes to even draw an offsides flag. And Northern Illinois is a good team. USF falling behind, even 1-0, could be fatal.
5. Draw on your experience beating ranked teams on the road. It's almost a cliche when looking for ways a dominant team can lose. But it's been so long since Creighton was challenged at home that they might not react well to things not going their way. In the Northern Illinois game, after a series of questionable calls went against them, Creighton's harassing defense started chasing balls they shouldn't have, and getting out of position. They quickly settled down (being ahead 2-0 helps), but it might be possible to frustrate this team. Combine that with the confidence USF showed at Wake Forest and the resiliency in rallying from 2-0 down in harsh conditions at Syracuse, the Half Hoops could score a great victory in Omaha.