After the Dons’ two games this past weekend, their 3-0 start to West Coast Conference play is beginning to feel like a distant memory.
In what was their most crucial two- game stretch of the season, USF surren dered late-game goals in a pair of 2-1 losses that came on the road against the Loyola Marymount Lions on Fri- day, Nov. 7, and at Negoesco Stadium against the San Diego Toreros on Sun- day, Nov. 9. With the losses, and with San Diego’s win, the Dons (9-6-2, 3-2- 0 WCC) had their WCC title aspira- tions crushed, and the Toreros (10-4-4, 6-0-0 WCC) clinched a first-place fin- ish in the conference.
Sunday’s game was a matchup be- tween two of the WCC’s finest, and the Dons looked sharp in the earlygoing. In the 25th minute, a ball from senior for- ward Miguel Aguilar bounced towards the feet of sophomore forward David Garrett, who sent a rapid shot on the ground and into the corner of the goal to give USF a 1-0 lead. The Dons went into the half with a slim lead after the Toreros’ five first-half shots yielded no results.
At first, the Dons showed no signs of backing off in the second period. In the 59th minute, senior midfielder Da- vid Romney sent a short, looping cross that was received by redshirt junior midfielder Kevin Gould, who headed the ball into the goal. For a moment, pandemonium ensued at Negoesco Stadium, and Gould rushed into the crowd to hug a group of excited friends, but his his goal was called back due to an offsides call.
From this point on, everything went downhill for the Dons. In the 70th minute, the Toreros drew a foul in the penalty box, and Keegan Smith cashed in on the penalty kick to tie the score.
“I feel like we could have tucked this game away earlier,” Garrett said. “If we had gotten it to 2-0, I think it would have been a completely different game.”
Just a few minutes after the Tore- ros’ first goal, USF assistant coach Alex Yi earned a red card for mouthing off at the referee following a controversial no-call. The Dons appeared to be taken out of their rhythm, and San Diego pounced on this opportunity, mounting a relentless attack in the final minutes.
The Toreros’ push finally paid dividends when Kyle Macleod, who played for the Dons last year before transferring, shat- tered the hopes of his former team with a goal in the 88th minute that put San Diego ahead 2-1.
In the 90th minute, senior goal- keeper Chase Hauser was given a red card for slide tackling a Toreros player outside of the Dons’ penalty box. It was an ugly end to the game for Hauser, who had been brilliant up to that point with a career-high 10 saves.
On Friday, the Dons’ game versus Loyola Marymount was another close contest that ended in disappointing fashion. San Francisco went down 1-0 in the 18th minute, but senior midfielder Danny Kirkland responded with his team-leading sixth goal of the season when he catapulted a long distance shot into the net just three minutes later. From then on, the Dons battled to pre- serve the tie despite being outshot by a wide margin, but ultimately folded in the second overtime period. The Lions took five shots in the two overtimes to the Dons’ zero, and it was Loyola Mary- mount’s final shot, which came courtesy of Alvaro Madrigal, that ended up be- ing the game-winner.
Now, with their WCC title hopes erased, USF will focus in on a second- place finish. The final week of confer- ence play begins on Thursday, Nov. 13 when the Dons visit the Pacific Tigers for a 7:00 match in Stockton, Calif.
“We’re going to grind it out no mat- ter what, and come up with a positive approach even though we can’t win con- ference,” Garrett said. “Really just try to stay positive and work hard.”.