By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Despite how big the game has been the Bulls have always had the mind set of proving people wrong.
National polls don’t have them ranked high enough. Publications are waiting for them to slip up against highly touted teams.
That’s rarely happened this men’s soccer season.
USF has gone 13-3-4 and has beaten eight ranked teams, including No. 1 New Mexico, on the way to making an Elite Eight date with Creighton at 1 p.m. Sunday in Omaha, Neb.
“Our team all year, we’ve felt like we’ve been a little big disrespected and not given enough credit,” keeper Chris Blais said.
The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree when it comes to the Bulls playing with a big chip on their shoulders each game. Talk to each student-athlete and they’ll tell you their hard-edged, tough mentality comes from head coach George Kiefer.
“He’s got New York in him. He’s a tough guy,” Blais said.
Kiefer, in his 10th season at USF, grew up around Long Island, where the weak certainly don’t flourish, especially in a sport like soccer.
“You wouldn’t leave with your ball if they didn’t put you in the game. You had to fight to be good,” he said.
If you’ve visited Corbett Soccer Stadium this season, you would have noticed the Bulls are a big reflection of their head coach and it all dates back to the beginning. USF was ranked far down the list in national polls at the start of the year and some didn’t even have the Bulls in the top 25.
“We’re grateful to be considered, but more importantly the fact that so many other polls don’t even have us in it is really our motivation right now,” Kiefer said on Aug. 17.
Kiefer was so passionate about the disrespect because he knew what he had. USF was coming off its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and all the pieces were in place to be a top team.
“I knew the talent we had on Aug. 10. We’ve been saying it since the first day. Why wouldn’t people think this team would be good with the talent we have?” he said.
“You fight for everything and I think they’re just fighting for the fact that they believe they’re a very good team,” Kiefer added.
Saturday is another chance for the Bulls to prove their worth, and that’s exactly how they’re looking at the program’s second appearance in the Elite Eight since 2008.
“I think still there is nobody that expects us to go to Creighton and win. I would be shocked if you find one publication that predicts that,” Kiefer said.
Despite the magnitude of the biggest game of the season, the players are approaching like game No. 1 because of what it has taken to get to this point.
“It’s a pressure game, but it was a pressure game (Sunday night), a pressure game the week before,” Blais said. “You just try to go out there and do your job.”
Credit should go to Kiefer for instilling those important qualities in a team that trains hard, plays hard and is itching for the next challenge.