The USF men’s soccer team beat UCF 2-1 in the semifinal of the American Athletic Conference Tournament in double overtime Friday night at Corbett Soccer Stadium.
It was an even affair for most of the first half. UCF defender Neico Regent picked up an early yellow card, and Lindo Mfeka left the game with a leg injury. While he would later return, his absence gave UCF an opening to attack more and left USF struggling to maintain possession.
The first 15 minutes of the second half were also uneventful. Then the game went mental. A slow-rolling pass from Figbe along the back line was picked off by UCF’s Jesus Colombo and slotted on the ground from outside the 18-yard box, right post. A rare miscue in the 61st minute from USF took the air right out of the stadium and the Knights led 1-0.
Two minutes later, Regent badly missed a slide tackle on Jonathan Rosales and picked up his second yellow. With Regent sent off, UCF lost one of their best all-purpose players, and the Bulls immediately took over the game.
Several chances came and went, but it was Marcus Epps who made the difference. He beat four defenders into the box before getting chopped down, drawing a penalty. Nazeem Bartman stepped up and fired an unsavable shot to the left side-net to level the match 1-1.
The Bulls were unable to find the winner in regulation, but kept up the pressure in overtime. Down a man, it was all UCF could do to just defend the now confident Bulls. In the first minute of the second overtime period, Marcus Epps made another great run from the right and tried to curl the ball far post for a streaking Melvin Becket. UCF’s Jonathan Dean tried a desperation bicycle kick clearance, but actually tipped it away from his keeper and into his own net.
The own goal set off delirious scenes at Corbett. The players and students mobbed Epps as he ran to the railing, followed by a thunderous U-S-F chant. The ever-cool George Kiefer even gave hugs to soccer SID Erin Bean and myself, a testament to how much he wanted this game. It was really the only quote I needed.
The top-seeded Bulls face the #2 seed Tulsa Golden Hurricane for the conference tournament title on Sunday at noon. Tulsa defeated a shocking UConn side 2-0 earlier Friday evening at Corbett. USF won the regular-season meeting between the two teams in Tampa by the same scoreline.