Another year, another heartbreak for the USF men’s soccer team — only no one could have imagined just how this painful this early NCAA tournament exit would be.
New Mexico scored on a tipped-in corner kick with just 18 seconds left, sending the Lobos past the Dons 1-0 in first-round play at Negoesco Field.
Lobos freshman Stephen Brown redirected Joey Vitagliano’s corner kick in a crowd of defenders, skipping the ball past Dons goalkeeper Geremy Uhl and moving New Mexico on to the second round to face Cal on Wednesday.
“It was just a breakdown in communication,” said Dons defender Rob Valentino, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. “It happens sometimes in soccer. It was just unfortunate for us that it happened with 18 seconds left.”
Brown’s goal capped off a torrid second half for the Lobos, who controlled play for much of the latter stages of the game. New Mexico, which lost in last season’s national championship game, started three freshman and three sophomores against the much more experienced Dons.
The Dons’ considerable edge in experience was notable in the first half, as USF dictated the tempo and made a number of charges deep into New Mexico territory, only to come up empty time and time again.
Leading many of USF’s sprints was senior forward Aaron Chandler, the 2004 WCC Player of the Year and the all-time leading goal scorer in conference play. Chandler had four shots in the first half, including one that Lobos sweeper Andrew Boyens was forced to clear out in the 14th minute and another on a breakaway in the 31st minute that Lobos goalie Mike Gracyzk barely swatted away.
The young Lobos, seemingly emboldened by coming away from the first half still tied, immediately began to dictate the pace in the second half. The Dons’ scoring opportunities, numerous in the first half, disappeared in the second half .
“I thought we played well, but we missed some good opportunities,” said Chandler, who squeezed off just one shot after intermission. “They kept hanging around, and in the second half the kept the pressure up. It’s just a tough loss.”
New Mexico 1, USF 0