If the first two conference games are any indication, it appears that the Dons’ preseason prosperity was no fluke.
USF stormed out to a 2-0 record in West Coast Conference play last weekend with a pair of home victories, squeaking past the Gonzaga Bulldogs 2-1 on Sunday, Oct. 19 behind a two-goal outing from freshman midfielder Aaron Lombardi, and edging the Portland Pilots 3-2 on Friday, Oct. 17.
On Sunday, USF (8-3-2) looked ready to jump ahead early, but freshman forward Bryce Kaminski’s shot banged against the goalpost and the Dons ended the first half tied 0-0 with Gonzaga. In the second half, the Dons came out eager to atone for their missed opportunities, and Lombardi, playing just his second game in a Dons uniform, sent a left-footed bullet into the net to score his first collegiate goal and put USF ahead 1-0. However, just three minutes later, Gonzaga’s Clark Phillips scored on a penalty kick to tie the game.
San Francisco outshot Gonzaga 12 to four in the second half, but couldn’t find the go-ahead goal. The game continued into extra time, and in the 109th minute, speedy senior forward Miguel Aguilar dribbled the ball between his defender’s legs and sent a sharp cross that found a sliding Lombardi, who miraculously got the ball past Gonzaga goalkeeper Ben Willis to give the Dons an improbable 2-1 win. Lombardi was instantly mobbed by ecstatic teammates, who jumped on top of the freshman to form a celebratory pile.
On Friday, in a first half much different than Sunday’s, there were goals aplenty for both USF and Portland. While the Dons were quickly put in a 1-0 hole, they evened the score in the 18th minute when senior midfielder Danny Kirkland’s beautifully-placed corner kick was headed in by senior midfielder David Romney. Just six minutes later, Romney was on the assisting end of a goal, and his cross found junior midfielder Jesus Del Toro, who scored on another header for the Dons to put them up 2-1. Throughout the game, most of USF’s opportunities came on corner kicks and long crosses.
“We just keep trying to break teams down through the wings and then cross it,” Romney said. “We were just executing our gameplan.”
The Pilots’ Michael Escobar scored in the 37th minute to even the game at 2-2 heading into halftime. After a high-scoring first half, both teams showcased their defensive strengths in the second period. With just eight minutes left in the game, the Dons’ chance came when the Pilots were called for a handball and USF was rewarded a penalty kick. Kirkland’s shot hit the crossbar, but bounced downward and into the goal, giving the Dons a 3-2 lead that they would not lose.
Senior goalkeeper Chase Hauser was brilliant in the second half, making three difficult save and preventing the Pilots from taking the lead.
“After [Hauser] makes that first big save, the next time they’re on a breakaway they think twice about shooting, and they just realize how good of a goalie he is,” Romney said. “He really stepped up and saved this game for us.”
The Dons’ will now suit up against Stanford for a non-conference match, which takes place tomorrow at Negoesco Stadium at 7:00 p.m.