The #19 USF men’s soccer team drew the American University Eagles 1-1 behind a standout performance from keeper Spasoje Stefanovic at Corbett Stadium on Monday night.
The Bulls (0-0-2) were shelled on shots 10-1 in the first half, getting heavily outplayed in most areas of the field. The Bulls rallied in the second half behind a penalty from defender Michael Bajza to earn a draw out of what seemed to be a lost cause.
“That’s not typically how we would want to play, but we had to change things to get back in the game,” said Coach George Kiefer after the game. “And how they responded at halftime, I think it shows real character.”
On Stefanovic, “I said to the team at the end you gotta thank (Spasoje) for the two-three saves (on break aways). If you dig a hole, two, three to zero, you’re probably not climbing out of it, and he stood on his head on a couple.”
Forward Nazeem Bartman was suspended from the contest following his sending off against Michigan, and his presence was notably missed. AU commanded the ball and pace of the game early. They got their reward when a long ball fell to Eagles winger Joe Iraola, who easily outstripped Liam McNally and fired home the first goal of the game from the top of the box in the 25th minute.
American continued to get chances for the rest of the half, and George Kiefer left the field visibly disappointed with his team’s performance. Whatever he said at halftime worked, because the USF team that came out of the half was a much different team.
Luis Garza and Melvin Becket put the offense on their backs in the second half, finally drawing a penalty when Becket was taken out by the keeper in the box, denying Becket a chance to take a shot. Michael Bajza stepped up and lightly slotted home the penalty to tie the game in the 62nd minute.
The penalty breathed new life into the Bulls, who began to play with a confidence that was entirely absent from the first half, even from the Michigan game. The game reached a frantic pace. Up and down the field they went, too fast for me to take notes. But notably, a rather incoherent first half USF squad was playing like a unit that had been playing together for years.
By the time the final whistle sounded, USF fans could have said they should have both won and lost the game. They’ve yet to put together a full 90, but the team that showed up in the second half could win the conference title. What team continues to show up remains to be seen.
- Final stats read AU outshooting USF 24-11, putting 10 on target to USF’s two.
- Alessandro Paciocco and Cliff Maina saw their first action of the season for the Bulls.
- Six cards were issued: including four for USF: Gomez 57’, Garza 63’, Smith 84’, and Paciocco 106’.
- Gabriel Pfeffer was used as a forward sub in contrast to his usual positioning along the back line.
- Prosper Figbe was an unsung hero, denying nearly as many chances as Spas did, and almost winning the game in OT with a wonderful run up the left side and a heavy shot that went wide.
- A noteworthy block by Figbe saw him deny a shot so hard that the AU player struck the ball and flipped straight onto his back as the ball and Figbe remained motionless.