University of Tampa midfielder Greg Monaco heard more than a few jeers from his own bench during much of the Mayor's Cup soccer game at the University of South Florida on Tuesday night. But all Monaco, a junior and former Tarpon Springs High star, will remember are the cheers following his goal with less than 20 minutes to play that gave UT a 1-0 win in front of an announced crowd of 2,063 fans.
UT (12-2-1), which is ranked No. 6 in Division II and can earn an automatic berth to the national tournament with a win at Saint Leo on Thursday, ended a five-game losing streak to USF (11-3-2).
USF still leads the series 6-4-1, but this loss may have jeopardized the Bulls' tenuous chances at receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Division I tournament. They still can claim at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship with a win against visiting North Carolina-Charlotte on Saturday.
If the Bulls were looking ahead, Monaco certainly made them pay for it. Although, he hardly looked like the one who could or would do that.
"Greg was doing a good job marking (Mark Chung), but he seemed to be plopping around on the field," said Tampa coach Tom Fitzgerald, who had chastized Monaco in the first half for not concentrating and playing up to his potential and echoed those sentiments following a yellow card midway through the second half.
"But three minutes before we scored, I turned to my assistant coach (Rocky Harmon) and said I thought Greg was going to score. I just felt it."
It proved to be a good feeling.
Sophomore defender Joe Lhota, a former Leto High standout, took a give-and-go pass from Mac Wilson down the left sideline, beating Ole Kristensen. Lhota then flicked the ball to an unguarded Monaco at the top of the box for the game-winning shot.
"I don't even remember how I got the ball," said Monaco, who had previously attempted 12 shots and scored no goals this season. "But I put the ball down, turned and struck it left-footed the first time. We had lost the last five years in a row. I just wanted to give it my best. It was really a group effort."
At the outset and for much of the first half, the Spartans aggressively challenged USF players for every ball. That effectively disrupted the Bulls' potent offense, which had produced 37 goals and had scored in every game.
"UT matched up and destroyed our play in the first half," said USF coach Jay Miller, who spent nine years at UT before coming to USF in 1987. "We never had a sync, but I thought we actually started controlling the game in the second half."
Until Monaco's heroics, that is.