USF Dons drop another tough one

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Marquee opponents have meant heartbreak recently for the USF men’s soccer team at Negoesco Stadium.

After playing fifth-ranked UCLA to a dead heat for 88 minutes Thursday night, the Dons committed a foul near the corner flag deep in their own end. On the ensuing free kick, Bruins sophomore Chance Myers found a loose ball eight yards from goal and managed to bounce it off a maze of defenders and into the back of the net, the only goal in a 1-0 UCLA win.

Coincidentally, New Mexico visits the Hilltop on Saturday at 7 p.m.

It was a moment eerily similar to last year’s NCAA Tournament, when USF allowed a goal to New Mexico with just 18 seconds remaining in a 1-0 defeat.

“Well, there was a little bit more time left this time,” Dons coach Erik Visser said with a grim smile. “But that’s soccer. The difference between winning and losing can sometimes come down to the bounce of the ball.”

The USF defense had played extremely well until the final scramble, limiting a potent Bruins attack to just three clean shots on goal. Dons goalie Eric Conner — a UCLA transfer — was excellent when called upon to make a stop, and made a lunging save to his left early in the second half to rob Mike Zaher of a goal. But he could only watch as Myers’ shot caromed over his shoulder and into the net.

“The ball came across and then there was just mayhem and I thought we had it cleared,” Conner said. “It’s tough because we played so well defensively and really had the attitude that we were going to shut them out.”

No. 12 USF (4-2) appeared poised to steal the win with 15 minutes remaining when star striker Conor Chinn made a nice turn at midfield and went in for a partial breakaway with two Bruins defenders in hot pursuit. But his right-footed shot from just outside the 18-yard mark bounced right into the arms of Bruins’ goalie Brian Perk.

UCLA (3-2-1) had been putting the pressure on throughout the first half, but was unable to beat the Dons’ defense. Its best chance prior to the goal came in the 67th minute when Maxwell Griffin’s shot hit the crossbar, but other than most of its possession came from well outside the 18. And after the final whistle blew, the Bruins’ players celebrated in the middle of the field after winning what they knew was a hard-fought game.

“To see [that] actually made me feel good,” Visser said. “Because that means we played them really well and we earned their respect.”

The game was tied 0-0 after the first half, with USF’s Jonathan McMullen getting the cleanest goal-scoring chance. The freshman forward turned with the ball at his feet in the 40th minute and fired a shot from 30 yards out that Bruins’ goalie Brian Perk saved with a dive to his left.

Much of the first 45 minutes was played in the midfield, with UCLA carrying the possession at times but unable to get past the last line of the Dons defense. Myers appeared to have a partial breakaway in the 28th minute but had the ball stripped off his shoelaces by Justin Warren. Later, USF defender and co-captain Chris Rodd pounced on a dangerous loose ball in the penalty area and cleared it away.

No. 5 UCLA 1, No. 12 USF 0

melliser@examiner.com

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