Penalty kicks end season for USF men's soccer team
TAMPA — For all the spectacular early saves that kept the USF men's soccer team in Thursday night's NCAA Tournament opener against No. 21 Florida Gulf Coast, it was the one Spasoje Stefanovic couldn't get to that will linger painfully for some time.
Seven minutes after the Bulls took a 2-1 second-half advantage on a laser by Marcus Epps that sent the crowd at Corbett Stadium into a frenzy, a shot from FGCU squirted into the box and pin-balled off a pair of USF defenders.
As Stefanovic, the AAC goalkeeper of the year, went to make what seemed to be a routine stop, the ball was mishandled by another teammate and trickled past him. That opened the door for Eagles midfielder Justin Gavin to easily tap it into the wide-open net for the equalizer.
Following a pair of overtime sessions, FGCU won the 2-2 decision in penalty kicks, 3-0, to advance to the second round and bring USF's season to a bitter conclusion.
"That's probably the toughest thing for me, because when you're a player that makes a mistake like that, it really hurts the player," a somber Bulls coach George Kiefer said. "That hurts me. ... I rubbed his shoulder and I told him there's guys that make $40 million a year that on any given Saturday can make a similar error.
"The game is about mistakes. But as a coach, it's tough because there's not too much I can say to get that anguish off of him. That bothers me a bit. It was just a simple mistake."
Albert Ruiz put FGCU on the board first in the 27th minute with a shot past Stefanovic in the top right corner. But USF didn't let the deficit linger as Lindo Mfeka tied the score on a blast in the 43rd.
Following a quiet first overtime, the teams battled through another sudden-death period that got heated as the Bulls were issued two yellow cards for chippy play, one of which resulted in a near-goal for the Eagles that just skipped over the cross bar on a free kick by Preston Kilwein.
In PKs, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Ricardo Gomez and Nazeem Bartman failed to find the back of the net, banging shots off the cross bar, into keeper Jared Brown and wide left. FGCU, meanwhile, connected on three its four attempts.
"(FGCU) handled the game well and did what they needed to do to get back in it and they're moving on," Kiefer said. "We wish them luck."