The Dons kicked off the season at home with a pair of 2-0 victories against the Long Island University Blackbirds and the Air Force Falcons on Aug. 29 and Aug. 31. The program that has won six NCAA Championships showed its first two opponents that they were starting off the season right – with their head in the game and their eyes on the gold. The Dons didn’t waste any time on Friday night against LIU, scoring two goals in the first few minutes of the game. Freshman forward David Garrett scored first, quickly followed by senior midfielder Mauricio Diaz De Leon, who got a penalty kick past LIU goalkeeper John Connolly and advanced USF to a 2-0 lead.
Spirits were high both in the bleachers and on the field when Garrett tore off his shirt after the goal to add to the palatable excitement. The Blackbirds did not show much strength throughout the first half. Even so, the Dons were unable to get another goal past them before halftime. After making some key substitutions, the Blackbirds came back in the second half fired up and looking to make a comeback, but the Dons matched their intensity to create a more evenly matched, yet less exhilarating second half.
The Dons attempted four more shots in the second half, but the Blackbirds, feeling the pressure, pulled it together enough to not let the Dons make another goal. The second half did not move along as quickly as the first, and the excitement began to die down a bit as the Dons came closer to securing the victory. Things started stirring up again in the last 15 minutes as the Blackbirds added final pressure to the Dons by attempting shots. USF was able to keep its morale up by a great stop by junior goalkeeper Chase Hauser, and maintained their 2-0 lead to begin the season on a positive note.
“(I) am very happy with the outcome…(it was) a good crowd on the opening day,” senior midfielder Vegard Karlsen said.
On Sunday afternoon, the Dons claimed another 2-0 victory with their defeat of Air Force at Negoesco Stadium. In contrast to their fast start in the first game, USF turned it on in the second half following a scoreless first 45 minutes. The pair of goals came courtesy of senior forward Liam Kelly in the 59th minute, and junior midfielder Danny Kirkland, who drilled a free kick into the back of the net in the 69th minute.
The Dons used their depth to their advantage as the game pressed on, frequently substituting in an effort to wear down the Falcons. Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Connor Gaal ended his first game of the season with a shutout, just one game after fellow goalkeeper Hauser accomplished the same feat.
Overall, things are definitely looking up for USF this season. The Dons will face University of California, Berkeley tonight, Sept. 5 at 7:00 P.M. at Negoesco Stadium.