Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Colleges: Bulls earn tough victory against Knights

TAMPA – On paper, the series between South Florida and Central Florida in men’s soccer has been one-sided, with the Bulls holding a 20-3-4 mark all-time entering the game against the Knights.

On the field on Tuesday night, the two teams looked a lot closer than that history might have indicated, as the No.11 Bulls earned a tough 2-1 victory through first-half goals by Fernando Gonzalez and Zak Boggs.

“I think they tried to disrupt the game,” USF coach George Kiefer said. “And I thought they were effective of that at times, and I thought when we played the way we wanted to play we were very dangerous. We need to get more of those minutes like we want to play than what they want to play.”

While UCF came out looking the sharper of the two sides, once the Bulls settled they began to dissect the Knights’ defense, which soon led to the opening goal.

After the play was switched across the field from the left, Jorge Mora brought the ball in from the right, opening up space behind him, and that allowed a pass to a streaking Aubrey Perry, who drove into the box, only to have his shot blocked behind the goal.

On the ensuing corner, however, Javed Mohammed floated a teasing cross to the far corner of the six-yard box, and Gonzalez was there to head home and put the Bulls ahead in the 24th minute.

Another quick passing move led to the Bulls’ second goal seven minutes later, as Sebastian Thuriere slid a pass through the UCF defense to Asani Sinclair, who beat the Knights’ offside trap and drove into the left side of the penalty area. Under pressure from the recovering defense, Sinclair laid the ball across the penalty area to Boggs, who took a touch before roofing his shot into the net.

While USF was able to make the most of the chances it created, UCF was disappointing in its attacking third. USF goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was forced into five saves before the break, but the Knights could have done better from the free kicks and corners they won, poor deliveries frequently allowing the Bulls to clear their lines easily.

The pressure the Knights were able to build, however, did disrupt the Bulls’ rhythm in the second half, as USF was careless when it gained possession, allowing the Knights to keep the bulk of play inside the Bulls' half.

“The second half, they came out playing a lot of long balls,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got to do a better job winning the first and second balls.”

Kiefer said he thought it would be easy for the Bulls to fix the issues they had with the pressure UCF was able to generate.

“I think we leave here knowing we need to do a little more aerial work with the guys, and work on our midfielders about getting into better spots for second balls,” Kiefer said. “I’m happy that we got this out of this game, that we do see something we can get better at.”

For all their pressure, though, the physicality with which the Knights played came back to haunt them to the tune of a pair of ejections. Finlay Milne was the first Knight to see red in the 75th minute, picking up a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Shawn Chin when the Bulls went on the counter-attack after a UCF corner.

Ben Hunt also received his marching orders six minutes later, getting a straight red card for deliberately preventing Boggs from capitalizing on a blocked UCF defensive clearance that would have led to a goal-scoring opportunity for the Bulls senior. UCF coach Bryan Cunningham had no objection to either sending off.

“I thought we were a little sloppy in the second half picking up a couple of lazy yellow cards for grabbing jerseys and things like that, and that’s always going to come back to haunt you,” Cunningham said. “I thought the sendings-off were fair, both guys deserved it, and it was silly on our part to commit those fouls.”

The Knights pulled a goal back in-between the two red cards, Yaron Bacher’s free kick from 40 yards out being met by Nik Robson, who flicked his header across the penalty area to Jeff Simmons, who headed home from eight yards out in the 76th minute. The second sending off killed the game, however, as USF was able to maintain possession easily against the nine-man Knights to hold on for the victory.

Cunningham was regretful his side wasn’t able to pull the first goal back sooner, which could have led to an opportunity to earn at least a draw.

“We had good control of the game, we had them boxed in their end, we just couldn’t find that second ball and put it in the back of the net,” Cunningham said.

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