It hasn't been a glorious fall season for USF Athletics, but the men's soccer team has come through with a conference championship and automatic NCAA bid.
The regulation game against UConn was about as dull as a 0-0 tie can be. UConn had all the opportunities in the first half, but Brentton Muhammad, who would prove to be the hero of the day, came up with several big saves to keep UConn off the board.
The second half was more even, with each team mustering up a two or three low-percentage chances to score. But this game had 0-0 and penalty kicks written all over it throughout. Especially late in the second half and in overtime, when neither team ventured forward very much. It was tough to tell if the listless play by both sides was a function of fatigue, difficult opposing defenses, or just a willingness to play for PKs. It probably wasn't that last item in USF's case, since UConn's decorated goalie Andre Blake is one of the best in the country.
After Ben Sweat scored, Brentton Muhammad came up with a save on UConn's first attempt. It hit off the post, but Muhammad appeared to get a tiny piece of the shot, just enough to keep it out of the net. May have been a goal otherwise.
The next two rounds were all goals, leaving USF up 3-2 entering the fourth round. One of USF's penalty goals was scored by Gerardo Hernandez, who didn't even play during regulation or overtime.
USF defender Wesley Charpie, who's scored game-winning goals before, beat Blake top shelf to give USF a 4-2 lead and a chance to win with a save. But UConn's Juho Karppinen scored to keep UConn alive. Edwin Moalosi could have won it for USF in the fifth, but Blake finally came up with a save. UConn's Cyle Larin scored to tie it at 4-4 and send the shootout to extra rounds.
After trading goals in the sixth round, Blake came up with a save in the seventh rounds, forcing Muhammad to make a stop to keep USF alive. And he delivered, with an amazing off-hand block. Muhammad dove to his right, the shot was above and behind him, but he blocked it with his left arm. Just an amazing save to keep USF's season alive.
The eighth round played exactly like the seventh - Blake stopped a pedestrian USF attempt, then Muhammad came up with a diving off-hand save, this time diving to his left and blocking with his right hand.
Duane Muckette, USF's ninth shooter, finally put another one past Blake, with a powerful drive to Blake's right. Muhammad then won it with a third straight save, blocking a powerful but fairly direct shot.
USF finishes the regular season at 8-3-9 (this game counts as a tie) and is now headed to the NCAA Tournament. Who might they play? It's hard to say, but this college soccer bracketology piece has St. John's as the last team in. If USF were to replace them, they would play at Delaware, and then Maryland if they win. Whoever they play, a road game is almost a certainty. As a late entrant into the field, USF could even be sent to a sub-bracket of western or midwestern teams.
Congratulations to George Kiefer and the team for winning USF's first American Conference championship! As the NCAA post-season goes, we've got a strong defense, a hot goalie, an automatic bid, and a lot of players who've been there before. Not a bad combination.