The Rowdies Cup, the Tampa Bay Rowdies' 1975 Soccer Bowl trophy, will stay at USF after the #19 Bulls defeated the University of Tampa Spartans 3-2 at Corbett Soccer Stadium on Saturday evening.
The three standout newcomers from the FIU exhibition started for the Bulls tonight. Gonzalo Rodriguez and Ricardo Gomez started in the midfield, while Jonathan Rosales played most of the game at left back. Rounding out the rest of the starting XI was Spasoje Stefanovic, Liam McNally, Prosper Figbe, Michael Bajza, Lindo Mfeka, Marcus Epps, Melvin Becket and Nazeem Bartman.
Before most of the fans had filed into the stadium. Becket put away an Mfeka cross in the first minute to put the Bulls 1-0 up. Tampa equalized in the 10th minute with a long header from outside the 18. Stefanovic claimed to have taken an elbow immediately after the play, marching halfway up the pitch to protest to referee Alex Srondo before being restrained by teammates.
The game quickly turned chippy after the Spartan goal. Like he was against FIU Monday night, Lindo Mfeka continued to be the target of several hard fouls. Through the first half, play was largely allowed to continue, almost to a dangerous point. It would take until the 38th minute before the first card was given out.
Before that, however, Bartman found the net for the first time in 2016. Epps made a run down the right wing straight to the touch line before sliding the ball across the box to a waiting Bartman in the 16th minute to put the Bulls 2-1 up.
Junior Ricardo Gomez continued to impress in the midfield after getting the nod tonight. He and Mfeka appear to have formed a solid connection already, commanding the midfield together. In the 41st minute, Gomez sent a long ball down the middle of the field to a streaking Mfeka, who just tipped the ball past the charging keeper for the third USF goal of the night.
Late in the first half, USF fans got their first look at the talented freshman striker Luis Garza, who replaced Bartman up top and left a first impression of speed, speed, and more speed.
Coming out of the half up 3-1, Christian Knight replaced Stefanovic in net for the Bulls. After a dominant first half by USF, the Spartans started the second half swinging. A much more even affair followed as both sides traded chances and possession.
Tampa pulled a goal back in the 55th minute. After that, USF fans got another look at Garza, who took over as striker while Bartman moved back to an attacking midfielder. Garza didn't register any stats, but still excited USF fans with several excellent runs and quickness on the ball during his time in.
In the 71st minute, the Spartans' frustration boiled over. As Rosales and Tampa's Fredinho Mompremier fought for the ball, both players went down. As the players got up, they got in each other's faces. Mompremier then flopped to try and draw a card, resulting in a scrum in front of the Tampa bench. Much credit goes to Rosales for frustrating a more athletic winger into attempting such desperate tactics. It looks as though Kiefer has found his new left back.
The game finished calmly after that. Tampa had one more chance to get back on terms, but the long-distance shot beat Knight only to hit the crossbar. Gomez and Bartman would leave the game with leg cramps after excellent games from each.
The Bulls look to have a much more offensive team in 2016 than past seasons. The combination of Bartman, Becket, Epps, Mfeka and Garza is going to prove to be an exciting one. The back line showed some cracks late, but leaders such as Figbe and Stefanovic in the back should be more than enough to give the Bulls another run at the conference title.
USF opens regular season play next Friday against the Michigan Wolverines.
- USF outshot Tampa 14-10, and had nine shots on target to the Spartans' five.
- Graham Smith and Michael Bajza picked up yellow cards during the contest.
- Point of contention: early in the second half, a Tampa midfielder hit a long backpass that began to sail over the keeper's head. He had to make a rather impressive punching save to prevent an own goal from midfield, but he never possessed the ball. Should the ref have awarded an indirect free kick?