So a soccer team that breaks their NCAA Tournament maiden and returns nine of eleven starters the following year should be a lock for a huge season, right?
Well it didn’t exactly work out that way for USF women’s soccer in 2011. They followed up an 18-7-3 campaign, including the first NCAA Tournament win in team history, with a head-scratching 6-8-4 record last year. Dropping five of their last six conference games saw the 2011 Bulls go from a team on the rise to a team that missed their own conference tournament. It was a truly bizarre display.
And it looks like they might be in for another long season in 2012 as well. After an opening-night 3-1 loss to UCF, the Bulls did rebound with a Jersey Shore Ronnie Special against Miami. One shot bro… and one game-winning goal from Sharla Passariello. But what we can discern from opening weekend is that the Bulls won’t play too pleasing a brand of football; however, 1-0 is beautiful when it works. And that seems to be the target scoreline for fourth-year head coach Denise Schilte-Brown this year.
More on the upcoming season after the jump:
The 12 players that started in the opening two matches included five seniors, two juniors, three sophomores, and two freshmen, including rookie goalkeeper Christiane Endler. The Chilean is 6’1" and looks like a monster out there, and her game control and presence really stand out for someone so young. Despite a soft third goal she let in against UCF, she looks to be a huge piece around which the Bulls can build. The back line in front of her got exposed a few times, but she was up to the challenge and seemed to be plenty vocal for a freshman. And her positioning and box control seems to be spot on. They’re excited to have her, and it looks like the net will be well-minded through 2015 if all goes to plan.
Passariello is the target player up top, and she stands out only if for her histrionics on the field. Someone that follows the team more closely than I do told me she's “the dirtiest player on either USF soccer team.” Not sure if that’s true, though I did see her barking at the refs with more voracity than most. The junior Welsh striker does show some serious ball skills -- she had a beautiful turn that opened up a scoring chance early, and provided great service for USF’s first goal this season. The Bulls also return their leading scorer from ’11 in Demi Stokes, a junior from South Shields, England. She paced all Bulls with four goals and four assists last year.
In that opening loss to #12 UCF that I saw, the gulf in skill and speed between the sides was pretty large. The Bulls were mostly chasing the ball, and their first touch was certainly lacking compared to the Knights. Assuming UCF’s ranking is appropriate, it’s fair to say the Bulls are a sizable distance from that status presently. But Schilte-Brown’s previous teams have shown plenty of heart and character, so let’s hope they can continue to improve and make a return to the Big East tournament.