In their last game before conference play begins, the USF men’s soccer team cruised past the North Florida Ospreys 5-1 in Tampa on Wednesday night.
Tomasz Skublak and Adrian Billhardt each collected braces on the night, with a fifth coming from Bradley Farias. Skublak started the scoring in the 5th minute, with a cannon that was nearly saved by starting UNF keeper Juanes Fajardo. However, the ball slipped through Fajardo’s hands and into the net. A minute later, Farias fed Billhardt down the middle of the box, who let a defender slide past before firing across net for a second.
Skublak scored his second in the 31st minute, lifting a header over Fajardo and just under the bar off a Billhardt cross.
Fajardo would eventually be replaced at halftime by backup keeper Tord Pederson. Pederson’s night did not go well either. In the 53rd minute, Farias’ volley off a Skublak cross glanced off defender Shane Nicholson and past a diving Pederson to make it 4-0 to USF. In the 57th, Billhardt got his second after Skublak (he had a good night) hit the UNF defenders with the skill moves to free himself in the box to put a ground cross in to Billhardt.
UNF pulled back a consolation in the 83rd minute after a dubious decision by referee Ted Unkel. It appeared Ricardo Gomez slid in and stabbed the ball away from UNF forward Adrian Nunez before Nunez went over on Gomez’s outstretched leg in the box. Unkel nonetheless pointed to the spot and Nunez converted, ruining the USF clean sheet.
Unkel also had some difficulty keeping order. Two separate scrums formed after hard tackles, and Unkel, well known in MLS for not being shy to book players, issued a total of nine cards — six yellows and a red to the Ospreys, and two yellow cards to USF. Osprey Cormac Begley was noticeably stuck in, making several hard challenges and pushing and shoving in both scrums. He was booked in the 56th minute, then sent off in the 88th minute with a straight red (no second yellow) for sliding late into the back of the legs of Stephen Rudderham. It was a reckless tackle, and luckily Rudderham was uninjured.
Knowing UNF was coming off a 2-2 draw at UConn over the weekend, coach Bob Butehorn was pleasantly surprised by the result. It was the first time the Bulls had scored five goals in a game since 2007. The drumming of UNF is sure to raise confidence going into conference play this weekend. The War on I-4 is renewed this weekend as C. visits Tampa Saturday night.
Going into conference play, SMU leads the pack with a record of 6-1, their lone loss coming at the hands of #5 Stanford. Cincinnati follows at 4-2-1, boasting wins over #15 Kentucky and Xavier. USF stands in third at 3-3, followed by UConn at 2-2-2, featuring a 1-1 tie to Georgetown and a 4-1 loss at the hands of George Kiefer’s North Carolina State. Tulsa stands at 5th at 2-3-1, their lone win being a massive upset over Stanford. Temple is 6th at 2-4-1, Memphis 7th at 1-3-2, and C. is last at 1-3-1. However, C. has losses to Duke, Elon, and FGCU, so their current record might be slightly misleading.
There are several strong sides in the league, but the Bulls appear to have enough talent and skill to make the conference tournament at the end of the year. The top four teams advance to the conference tournament, hosted by the regular-season champion.
USF’s quest to host a second year in a row starts Saturday vs C. The first 400 students receive the 2017 USF soccer scarf for free, so get there early.