The USF men’s soccer team played to a scoreless draw against the 20th-ranked SMU Mustangs on a blustery Sunday afternoon in Tampa.
Keeper Christian Knight was the story on Senior Day. He made 15 saves in one of his most memorable performances to date. Nine saves came in a first-half onslaught by SMU, who outshot USF 14-2 in the first 45 minutes.
Coach Bob Butehorn admitted after the game that it affected the Bulls going forward.
“They had it first and they wore us down. They had some chances and we were so tired going into the second after going against the wind the whole time. So we started the second half a little bit flat. But honestly it was the factor. The determining factor in the game. For no goals to go in, that’s very strange for that kind of wind.”
For the first few minutes of the second half, the Bulls continued chasing the game. However, USF finally managed to find some offensive pressure, and it was game on. Up and down the field the game went for the final 40 minutes of regulation, with several good chances on either end. Two corners for USF in particular led to excellent shots that were saved by SMU keeper Michael Nelson. Nelson was forced to make seven saves on the day, all of them when facing the wind.
Both teams had plenty of chances to end the game on the east side of Corbett Stadium, but neither could find the net. Overtime came and went with looks from both teams. Tomasz Skublak had two headers that looked destined for the back of the net only to be saved by Nelson. Fouls were coming fast and hard, and fans of both teams were howling at referee Jan Halaska, often within seconds of each other as players fouled and retaliated. As the final whistle sounded, a small group surrounded Halaska, and a red card was issued to an SMU assistant coach.
Coach Butehorn’s message at the beginning of the year was to see growth out of his team. On Sunday he said he saw his team grow and learn the kind of experience in a game that could win them a conference title in the future. “There were things they made mistakes on that ended up being growth. So while it gives me angina, they’re learning and I’m paying the price for their growth,” he said with a wry smile.
The Bulls (6-5-4, 3-1-2 AAC) finally get a chance to rest for a week before the final regular-season game at Temple next Saturday. The Bulls need a draw to lock up a spot in the conference tournament.