MSOC : With strong 2nd half, Orange survives against No. 22 USF
Dean Foti wasn’t interested in talking to his team about South Florida’s national ranking before the game Saturday night.
No, the Syracuse men’s soccer coach had other concerns: righting the ship of a team reeling from a 2-6-1 record over the past nine games, including six losses to Big East opponents, the most recent one a 3-2 home defeat last Wednesday to Villanova that lingered with bitterness.
Ranked last in the Big East red division with three games left, Syracuse needed to win out to stay eligible for the Big East Tournament.
So USF’s No. 22 ranking? That was just a number to Foti.
‘They’ve all played top 25 teams before,’ Foti said of his team.
But they hadn’t beaten one since October 2005, when the Orange knocked off No. 18 Cincinnati, 2-1. That changed Saturday.
The Orange (6-6-4, 3-6) gritted out a 1-0 victory over the Bulls at SU Soccer Stadium Saturday night in front of 801 fans, surviving a late push by South Florida (10-4-2, 5-4-1) to keep alive its postseason hopes.
For Syracuse, the focus was on righting the wrongs that had haunted it defensively in the recent losing streak. The marking was a conspicuous improvement from the Villanova game, when Wildcats forward Mike Seamon scored a hat trick in an eight-minute span in the second half.
It was a blue-collar game, SU junior midfielder Pete Rowley said, the kind the Orange had to play to win on a raw, choppy field softened by days of rain, then hardened by the biting cold.
‘The field had a lot to do with it,’ Rowley said. ‘It was tough to keep up. It’s probably the worst the field’s ever been. It’s been wet and rainy, and that affected them, too.’
SU sophomore forward Hansen Woodruff provided the game’s only score – his 10th goal of the season – in just the fifth minute of play: an unassisted, slashing jaunt down the left side of the field. Woodruff sliced through two defenders before roofing the ball over USF goalkeeper Jeffrey Attinella.
But scoring first had not been the problem lately for the Orange, who jumped out to leads in both the Villanova loss and a 1-1 draw with Hartwick two games before. It was afterward when it struggled.
‘They know what it takes to win, and it’s a matter of going out and executing it,’ Foti said. ‘We felt like we did a lot of things that could have won us the game at Villanova, but we also did a couple of things that lost us that game.’
Saturday night was different.
After Woodruff’s goal, the Orange offense went into a deep freeze. Attempts to link up and move the ball ahead to forwards Woodruff and Kyle Hall were derailed by USF’s combination of physical backline play and a deft offside trap.
Still, it was part of a careful plan of attack, one designed to restrain the speed of the Bulls – and curtail the Orange’s own mental lapses.
‘The first thing to do to stop a team that has fast, dangerous guys like South Florida is to keep the ball ourselves,’ Rowley said. ‘Don’t give them a chance to have it. And the next thing is to be smarter with it.’
After a first half bogged down in the midfield, the Bulls pressed forward in the second half, moving their defenders forward to try and even the match.
But time and again, the Syracuse backline, led by senior captain Brad Peetoom and senior Aaron Bonser, held together, shuttling the USF crosses, and seven corner kicks, out of the Orange zone.
Jordan Seabrook, one of USF’s leading scorers, was held shotless. At least four of the Bulls’ 10 shots were blocked. And of SU keeper Rob Cavicchia’s four saves, he was only truly tested once, leaping and flashing his right palm upward to deflect midfielder Simon Schoendorf’s blast out of bounds.
‘We didn’t have the ball for large periods of time,’ Foti said. ‘But we kept good defensive shape, we stayed disciplined and we got through it.’
At the end, it seemed for a moment the record might skip again for Syracuse and another late goal would sink their hopes. But Schoendorf’s shot from inside the 18-yard line sailed just over Cavicchia’s head with seven second left, and the Orange hung on.
The hugs after were brief, business-like. The Orange was a team more concerned with survival – and Wednesday’s nationally televised ESPNU game with St. Johns – than reveling in an upset.
‘We got by today,’ Foti said. ‘So it’s the same approach. We’re hoping we can take the same approach to Wednesday’s game.’
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