The #20 USF women’s soccer team narrowly defeated the Houston Cougars 3-2 in Tampa on Thursday night.
It was a gorgeous evening, despite the official stats claiming “How can it be this hot in OCTOBER. It’s 90 degrees.” The game, however, was as hot as could be. After a largely uneventful first half that saw USF dominate, the second 45 was as wild as you like.
The Bulls took their first lead of the night in the 37th minute. Freshman forward Sydny Nasello had herself an excellent day on the left wing, terrorizing the fullback trying to cover her. It was Nasello that made the play for the first goal, sending in a laser-guided cross to sophomore defender Sabrina Wagner for an easy header.
The drama began in the second half. Three times USF took the lead, twice Houston would find an equalizer. The first Cougar goal came at 49:37, as Houston striker Jazmin Grant blazed past the USF defense to tie the game at 1-1.
Nasello responded with a goal of her own at 50:14. Blazing her own path down the left wing, she cut across the box and fired home her fourth goal of the year. She and Wagner would both end the night on a goal and assist each.
The next Houston goal was a nightmarish mistake from freshman keeper Sydney Martinez. Off a poor turnover from sophomore defender Chaynne Dennis, Houston winger Desiree Bowen sent Martinez a tight angle ground shot. Having the angle covered, Martinez bobbled the save and the ball trickled across the line for Houston’s second goal in the 63rd minute.
Again, USF would respond quickly. Off a free kick from midfield, junior midfielder Andrea Hauksdottir sent in a long ball that nearly deflected out the back for a goal kick. Instead, Wagner would get a foot to the ball and send it across the six yard box. She found junior forward Aubrey Megrath, who finished easily into an open net for the game winner.
Any worries about Martinez losing her nerve were settled within the game. In the final 90 seconds of the game, Martinez made an incredibly gutsy (but also correct) play to keep the Bulls in front. As Houston threw numbers forward, the Bulls defense got caught high up the field as a long ball got lofted over their heads.
As two Cougar forward streaked toward the ball, Martinez charged 10 yards out of her own box. She just cleared the ball before Grant was able to get a foot to it, but the two players clattered knees with each other.
Martinez’s clear wasn’t high enough, and was intercepted by a Cougar. As Martinez limped and stumbled back to her box, the Cougars tried once more. The shot was low, however, and Martinez bought the Bulls back line enough time to recover. The shot was stopped by sophomore defender Chyanne Dennis and cleared to preserve the win.
“I think a coaching error, on our part,” said head coach Denise Schilte-Brown after the game. “If you watch Houston, you watch their results, they’ve had two overtime wins. They’ve come back in multiple games. I think I could have mentally prepared my team better for their ability to show up at the end of games.”
“In the first half, I thought they did really well. I thought we ran the table in the first half. If Evelyne (Viens) had connected on her opportunities, it would have been 3-0 at halftime. At halftime, there’s a couple minor adjustments in the middle of the field and some offensive movements where we thought we could continue to get after them. They made them, but then (Grant), who’s fast and tenacious, got loose that one time. Her speed made us start to step back, and once we step back it opens up space in the middle. The game started to unravel for us. There was moments we took momentum back by scoring, but they kept a bit of fear in us.”
Meanwhile in Orlando, C. allowed SMU to slide a goal past them in the second half, dropping the game 1-0. It was the break the Bulls needed, and they now sit alone at the top of the conference table with two games remaining. Winner of the regular season hosts the conference tournament.
The Bulls host SMU this Sunday at 1 p.m. for those not too hungover from football the night before. For everyone else, it’s War on I-4 night on Friday, October 26th to close the regular season.