ST. PETERSBURG – With a pivotal game coming up on Friday for the University of Tampa, it could have been easy for the No.2-ranked Spartans to overlook their game on Tuesday night against an Eckerd team that had lost its previous two conference games.
The Tritons, though, gave the Spartans a tough test for the first 45 minutes before a pair of goals and a sending off in the second half allowed Tampa to earn a 4-1 victory at the Turley Athletic Complex.
“We’ve really focused on taking each game and breaking each game down,” Spartans coach Adrian Bush said. “To look ahead to Friday would have been very easy to do, and I think they came in with the right mentality and focus to get the job done tonight.
“I’m happy for our players because I know how hard they’ve worked to get the result that they got, because it could have been an easy let-down. But with this group, there are no let-downs. They’ve taken it in stride, they’ve beaten some very good teams, and it’s last game, next game for us. That’s all we really focus on.”
Tampa (10-0-1, 4-0-0 SSC) took the lead with a well-worked goal in the seventh minute, a long ball finding Pascal Milien on the right 30 yards from goal. Milien cut inside, and passed to Lister Warren at the top of the penalty area, who flicked the ball on to Ryan Griffin. With the defense pulled out of position, Griffin played the ball to Dominic Goncalves, who was overlapping down the left, and he shot into the net.
Eckerd (5-7-0, 3-3-0) bounced back quickly, and Spartans goalkeeper Ryan Thompson had to be sharp to make a pair of excellent saves, tipping a curling shot over the bar from Anthony Arico and palming a shot wide from Colin Kuhn.
Off the corner following Kuhn’s effort, the Tritons found an equalizer, Kuhn’s corner kick from the right going to the far post, where it was headed back across goal by Alex Patterson for Arico to volley home from eight yards out in the 18th minute.
The Tritons time on even terms was short-lived, though, as Dan Ingvarsson’s free kick from about 45 yards out found Ryan Griffin, who flicked his header into the left corner of the net six minutes later.
Both sides had chances to add to the scoring before halftime, Dan Sheekey and Arico being denied by Thompson, and Warren hitting the crossbar for the Spartans, but it wasn’t until the second half that Tampa began to pull away.
After Milien had picked up the ball in his own half, he beat a pair of Tritons and took off down he left flank, going about 50 yards before being brought down 25 yards from goal on the left side of the penalty area. Ingvarsson stepped up and curled a beautiful free kick over the defensive wall and into the left corner of the net, putting the Spartans up 3-1 in the 51st minute.
“It was nice,” Ingvarsson said. “I was lucky last year with a few, and it’s just so great to score my first free kick goal of the season.”
Ingvarsson also scored the Spartans’ fourth after Tampa was awarded a penalty when Mike Bethel’s shot was blocked by a defender’s hand in the penalty area. Eckerd goalkeeper Domenic Spedaliere did well to save Ingvarsson’s initial shot, diving to his right to save, but Ingvarsson followed up to score on the rebound.
Nine minutes later, the Tritons were reduced to 10 men after Sheekey was shown his second yellow card of the game for a poor challenge on Brian Fekete. While the Tritons had chances to score, with a man-advantage Tampa was able to control possession for the bulk of the remainder of the game.
Eckerd coach Jeremy Wisdo thought the difference in the game was finishing.
“We felt we had a couple of chances early on that we squandered early on,” Wisdo said. “Maybe in the first three corners we had two really good chances either we didn’t get on target or their goalie made a good save on.
“I thought our service was excellent from our corners, and from most of our set pieces, and we got on the end of a lot, but we couldn’t find the back of the net.”
The Spartans now travel to face No.9 Rollins on Friday night with the winner holding the inside track to the SSC regular season title. Bush said he has a great deal of respect for the Tars, who are 13-0-1 overall and 5-0-0 in the SSC after a 1-0 victory against Lynn on Tuesday night.
“Another top-10 match-up between two very solid teams,” Bush said. “I think their No.9 ranking is not justified, I definitely think they are a Top-5 team in the country, and we look forward to a great contest.”