By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – The No. 4 Bulls learned a valuable lesson at a very important time Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Soroka scored off a free kick less than three minutes into the game, which proved to be enough for Villanova to upset USF, 1-0, in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals before a crowd of 1,589 at Corbett Soccer Stadium.
The loss snapped the Bulls’ unbeaten streak at 11 games and forces USF to wait and see where it will end up in the NCAA Tournament.
“The blessing behind this is this is the Big East Tournament. It gives us an opportunity to rest some guys and get ready for the NCAA Tournament,” USF head coach George Kiefer said.
USF (12-3-3, 7-1-2 in Big East) headed into the conference tournament with a bye and found itself in a very early hole after a foul near the Bulls’ box set Villanova (8-8-4, 3-6-1) up for a free kick. Soroka fired a shot into a crowd and USF keeper Chris Blais didn’t get a clear look at it, resulting in a Wildcats lead just 2 minutes, 10 seconds into play.
“I’ll take the blame and say I should have saved it,” Blais said. “I couldn’t see the ball, and before you know it the ball was in the back of the net.”
The Bulls had their opportunities in the second half and nearly tied up it numerous times in the game’s final moments. Stiven Salinas got a rebound and fired a shot to the top right of the net with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining, but keeper John Fogarty’s diving stop saved the day for Villanova.
USF outshot Villanova, 7-1, in the final period and Kiefer said the final result could be beneficial to the Bulls moving forward.
“This could be a good wakeup call for us,” he said. “It could be exactly what we needed.”
Blais agreed and said the next week of preparation will be crucial for USF’s run in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s about being men and knowing that we’ve had a good season. We didn’t show up today,” he said. “We have to come out hard this week in practice because if we don’t do that it’s going to be the same result.”