Memphis men’s soccer wins thriller over USF, advances to AAC Tournament semis
They looked dead in the water. They couldn’t connect on passes, instead sending them to USF players or out of bounds. USF was getting more chances than they were as time was slipping away. But the Memphis Tigers never threw in the towel and somehow, someway came up with two goals in the final minutes of Sunday night’s AAC Tournament quarterfinal to earn a dramatic 3-2 victory over the visiting Bulls.
The night began inauspiciously for the Tigers as USF took the lead after just thirteen minutes on a strike from nearly 30 yards out. Alberto Cruz was able to equalize for the Tigers just three minutes later after the USF keeper mishandled a free kick and spilled a rebound off the crossbar right into his path. With just six minutes left in the first half, the Tigers once again found themselves trailing as the Bulls earned a free kick that was headed home from close range. The second half saw neither team create much in the way of real chances, which suited USF just fine. With less than 10 minutes to play, it began to look bleak for the Tigers as they were unable to get anything going. Then, out of nowhere, the Tigers launched a counterattack which led to a dangerous ball into the six yard box from Jose Ojeda that a USF defender deflected in for a 2-2 tie. With 4:04 remaining, thoughts inevitably turned to overtime. But the Tigers weren’t done yet as with just over one minute to play, Hayden Anderson sent in a corner kick that Logan Longo headed home to give the Tigers the lead and the eventual win.
It’s a game that saw Coach Richard Mulrooney go through the full spectrum of emotional swings.
“I mean, it’s a 90 minute game for a reason, you know?” he said. “First off, credit to USF. That’s a good team. They’ve got some good players that not only are all-conference players but players I think that will have the ability to play on the next level at some point. Credit to them to put up the fight that they did. But in saying that, the resiliency of my team to go down 1-0, tie it up, go down 2-1, tie it up, and then not only that with four minutes left but to get that third goal.”
Coach Mulrooney then elaborated on the resilient identity of this Tigers team.
“You know, it’s a belief. We could’ve just easily sat in and said ‘Oh, let’s just see it to overtime’ but this team doesn’t do that. Now, I have nights of losing sleep over it but having said that, that’s who we are. We believe, we went after it.”
Perhaps one of the reasons that this game against USF was so difficult for such long stretches was because this was a USF team the Tigers had played just over a week ago, in which they earned a late 2-1 win.
“Yeah a hundred percent. That’s the way it worked out. They sort of sat in a mid, low block. The first game, they pressed us and it almost worked tonight. We’ve played against mid blocks this year and thankfully the guys remembered how to play against that. In saying that, they played a really good game. We were able to make some plays in the second half. But it did make it tough, no doubt about it.”
His team was able to find a way to get the win, but Coach Mulrooney still isn’t quite sure how the Tigers were able to get the result tonight.
“There’s something about this team.” he said as he pointed to the soccer practice field. “I’ve been down on that bottom field and it’s been practices that have been sluggish with careless turnovers but at the drop of a hat we’ll have some sort of play and it’s just like, ‘Where has that been?’ or we’ll have the last five minutes of our practice and it’s been beautiful and it’s just like, ‘Where’s the consistency?'”
“So if I knew that answer and could put it together for 90, I’d probably be 15-0 or 16-0. But having said that, it’s a game of mistakes and making sure you recover from them but at the same time the guys have that ability. And that belief of if we go down 1-0 or 2-1 it’s ‘So what?’ Point being is that belief is always there.”
With tonight’s win the Tigers advanced to the semifinals of the AAC Tournament and now have to travel to face the #1 seeded Mustangs of SMU on Thursday at 7pm.
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