By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Thunder and lightning failed to crash a historic University of South Florida soccer party Tuesday night.
T.J. Roehn scored the first-ever goal at USF’s new on-campus stadium after a 45-minute weather delay and the USF men’s soccer team capped off the opening of the venue with a 2-1 Rowdies Cup exhibition victory over the University of Tampa before a crowd of 1,440.
“We’d been working on this thing for seven years. We didn’t want to lose the opener,” USF men’s head coach George Kiefer said. “I think to get that off our back is good. Now we can just relax out here and get better and better.”
Before cheers filled the stands for the first time, uncooperative weather forced the ribbon cutting ceremony inside the USF athletics building.
Partying indoors wasn’t a problem.
“This is kind of fun, right? This is a little different,” said USF President Judy Genshaft, who drew a loud laugh from a room filled with Bulls donors, supporters and both soccer teams.
“We are thrilled with the venue of new athletic opportunities that we have,” Genshaft added.
Both head coaches used the celebration to not only thank their supporters, but to also share how special the ground-breaking experience has been.
“I’m so grateful to be a part of this,” USF women’s head coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “It’s hard sometimes to really look around and really fathom that you get to be a part of something so great. Sometimes when I’m out in that new stadium and I look around I’m like, ‘Woo, how did this happen?’ ”
“As a coach you always want provide as much as you can for your team and you want them to know you’re fighting for them and working and trying to piece everything together to give them the environment to play in,” Kiefer said. “I know when they walk over the berm; they’re going to be walking out to one of the best facilities in college soccer.”
USF Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Doug Woolard agreed.
“It’s a venue where fans are going to be right on top of the action,” he said. “Berms are going to be filled with fans and students behind both goals. I think it’s going to the hardest place for opponents to play soccer than any place in the United States.”
It certainly wasn’t easy for Tampa.
USF charged through a smoke-filled tunnel of fans to the field and proceeded to pepper Tampa keeper Kody Parker with four aggressive shots in the first 11 minutes.
The Bulls broke through nearly 37 minutes into the first half when Roehn, a sophomore forward, deflected Morten Benestad’s cross off his chest into the top left corner of the net for the memorable goal.
“I came in with 10 minutes to go in the first half and I just wanted to make a difference,” Roehn said.
USF wouldn’t have been able to take the lead if it wasn’t for the stellar play of its own keeper. Chris Blais made three saves during a flurry of Tampa shots about nine minutes before Roehn’s goal.
“Tampa got a few good shots off, I made some saves (and) we luckily got it out of there,” Blais said.
Junior forward Dom Dwyer kept things rolling for USF in the second half when he put the Bulls ahead, 2-0, in the 63rd minute with an unassisted goal. Again, the damage was done in the top left corner of the net past a diving Parker.
Dwyer’s goal proved to be valuable.
Tampa cut its deficit in half with a goal by Dominic Cutrofello about five minutes later.
It proved to not be enough for the Spartans, who were outshot by the Bulls by a 20-8 margin.
“We came out pumped up to the fans cheering, the smoke, and right then and there we knew we were going to win,” Roehn said. “There was no way we were going to lose this game.”
USF will look to carry the momentum into its season opener 7 p.m. Saturday at Wake Forest. The Bulls’ regular season home opener is Friday, Sept. 2 against Georgia State at 7:30 p.m.
Season tickets can be purchased on GoUSFBulls.com.