by Matthew Sheridan
This past Saturday, the men’s soccer team opened up Big East play against the No. 13-ranked USF Bulls in front of a raucous Villanova home crowd. Villanova headed into the game with a 7-2-0 record through non-conference play. They were hoping to prove that this record was no fluke and that they could play with the top teams in the Big East, while the Bulls were 6-2-1 and looking to prove themselves as a conference power yet again.
Through the first half, the Wildcats and the Bulls played to a scoreless draw, with neither team getting much going on offense. However, as the second half got underway, the match quickly turned into a much more offense-oriented competition.
Chances became more frequent, and in the 66th minute, the Bulls broke through off the foot of senior defender Brenton Griffiths as he received an open pass in the box following a USF free kick.
Griffiths’ goal put USF up 1-0 and kicked off a frantic stretch of play that would last the remainder of the match. Although the goal put ’Nova down on the scoreboard, it caused them to pick up their play and to start to put immense pressure on the South Florida back line.
Villanova was getting chance after chance and dominating the course of play, outshooting the Bulls 16-4 in the second half.
“This team is battle-tested, and has a lot of senior and junior leadership,” Associate Head Coach B.J. Callaghan had to say about his team’s response to the USF goal. “They don’t get down after bad plays. They just continue to battle.”
The Wildcats continued to dominate play, but it seemed as if nothing was going to find the back of the net, with multiple shots going just wide or being deflected by the USF defense.
However, Villanova finally broke through in the 83rd minute, on a header by junior midfielder Hayden Harr off a cross from sophomore midfielder Oscar Umar, sending the Villanova crowd into a frenzy.
“Big shoutout to the fans, they were great today and hopefully they keep coming out,” Harr said. “I had been looking for my first goal all year, and to score in that fashion in a game like this was great.”
With the goal, Villanova knotted the game at 1-1. For the remainder of regular time, the Wildcats continued to dominate and have many great chances but could not net a goal.
“We were unlucky not to win in regulation,” added Harr. “We had a lot of opportunities but we weren’t able to finish them off.”
The Wildcats’ best opportunity came with less than 10 seconds left in the game, as a ’Nova cross skirted dangerously across the South Florida box, but unfortunately was not redirected into the Bulls’ goal.
With that, the game was headed to its first of two 10-minute overtime periods. With ’Nova having all the momentum heading into extra time, it seemed that a goal was imminent.
However, the Wildcats were unable to score, with this period’s best chance actually coming for USF’s sophomore midfielder Roberto Alterio, who had a clear shot on an open net after he managed to get by the Villanova defense.
However, Alterio could not capitalize and the shot sailed high, keeping ’Nova’s chances alive.
The second period of extra time went relatively the same way, with both teams trading chances, but neither able to gain the lead.
As a result, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, sending Villanova to 7-2-1 on the year, and South Florida to 6-2-2.
The draw brought mixed emotions for the Wildcats, as they were happy with their performance, but unhappy that they could not get the win and the all-important three points that accompanied it.
“Every game is a battle in the Big East, and the one point that we got with the draw is great,” Callaghan said. “However, our goal is always to come away with a win and three points, especially when we’re at home.”
Despite the disappointment of the tie, Villanova still felt good about its play on Saturday.
“They are the class of the Big East, a nationally ranked team,” Harr offered. “We proved that 7-2 was no joke and we can play against these teams. Next, we have St. John’s, another nationally ranked team, and another chance to prove ourselves as one of the top teams in the conference.”
Coach Callaghan was also pleased with his team’s performance.
“We talked all week about being aggressive and throwing off their rhythm,” he said. “We executed that tremendously. The team worked hard and they were rewarded with a draw.”
The Wildcats next game is Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. against Lafayette.