The #19 USF Men's Soccer team opened their season with a 0-0 draw against the Michigan Wolverines at Corbett Stadium on Friday night.
The game was delayed 45 minutes due to lightning, but it didn't dissuade the announced crowd of 1,650, many of whomwere sporting the 2016/2017 USF scarf (ooohhhh, they're so nice this year!)
USF's starting XI was Christian Knight in net, then Liam McNally, Prosper Figbe, Michael Bajza, Jonathan Rosales, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Ricardo Gomez, Graham Smith, Melvin Becket, Nazeem Bartman and Luis Garza in the field. Missing from Friday's lineup were Lindo Mfeka, Marcus Epps, and Spasoje Stefanovic.
Both teams early struggled for dominance in the midfield. The physicality of the game was also established early, with lots of contact going uncalled by referee Andres Pfefferkorn. The defense, particularly Rosales and Figbe, were tested early and often by the speedy Michigan striker Francis Atuahene.
Luis Garza had probably the best look of the game as he flicked a long ball through the hands of Michigan keeper Evan Louro and on frame, though the slow-rolling ball would be cleared away by the defense.
The second half opened where the first left off. USF got plenty of pressure early, and looked to be on the verge of breaking through.
Then the game changer.
In the 59th minute, Bartman was brought down in the Michigan box with a shove in the back. The crowd rose, celebrating the penalty call, until a second and very harsh yellow card was shown to Bartman for diving, sending him off. (He had earlier been carded for a clumsy challenge on a Wolverine.)
With USF's biggest offensive threat out of the game, and USF down a man, Michigan rallied. The Bulls immediately fell back into a more defensive shell and counter attacked whenever they could, allowing the Wolverines to control most of the midfield.
Jonathan Rosales played well at game at right back. On one memorable play, he whiffed on a tackle at midfield before sprinting back and somehow cutting off a streaking Atuahene and force an extremely poor shot. Unfortunately, Rosales would leave the game late with an apparent throat injury, appearing only for the final minutes of the second overtime period.
Both teams faded in the heat and humidity late on. USF regained their poise and held their own despite being a man down. But after Prosper Figbe left the game with cramps so severe he could barely walk, Michigan spent the last two minutes of the game on the attack. It took everything for USF to continue to hold the shutout, but they managed it, earning a point in the season opener.
After the game, Michael Bajza was pleased with the team's performance, given the circumstances. "Based off the result, going down a man, with 10 men for 55 minutes, it's a good result. Not the way we probably wanted to get a win at home on the first day, but with the way things happen and the way the game went I think we're pretty proud with how it went."
Coach George Kiefer sang the praises of substitutes Gabriel Pfeffer and Omar Al Balushi. "I thought the guys did a good job as far as managing their discipline, especially when we went down a man. I also thought the guys that came into the game, Omar, Pfeffer, those two guys in particular did a really good job helping the group when we needed something."
Shots ended 8-6 in favor of Michigan, 3-2 on target. The men's soccer team returns to action Monday night at 7 vs American University.