DePaul Clinches Playoff Spot Despite Loss to No, 6 USF
TAMPA - From Alex Mangan's opening salvo to the closing seconds and one last Mangan header, the Blue Demons battled the sixth-ranked soccer team in the nation to a virtual standstill.
Thanks to a magnificent performance by DePaul goalkeeper Joe Ferrari, the only difference on this hot and humid Florida night was a free kick that gave USF a 1-0 victory Wednesday night at the USF Soccer Stadium.
But with Cincinnati's 3-1 loss to Louisville Wednesday night, DePaul clinches a berth in the BIG EAST Championships for the fourth-straight year.
Most BIG EAST teams and those from colder climates wither away and struggle to catch their breath here. There's a reason the Bulls have not lost a home match in two years.
Buoyed by Ferrari's acrobatics in front of the net and a back line that sidetracked a high-powered USF attack, these Blue Demons had enough fire in their bellies to put on a late rush.
Steffen Vroom, Antonio Aguilar and Charlie Mancuso created one dangerous opportunity after another down the stretch. Finally, with two seconds left, a last-gasp Mangan header went just over the USF goal.
"You couldn't ask for a better college soccer game," said DePaul coach Craig Blazer. "Joe Ferrari showed a lot of composure out there, and the defense played great in front of him. Their goalie had an outstanding game---especially on Mangan's header right at the beginning. He's the best goalkeeper we have faced all year.
"They showed why they are the No. 6 team in the country, and we showed how good we are. The only difference was the free kick."
With a nice bit of tactical sense, USF's Zak Boggs put himself in a position to be fouled in the first half. The whistle blew and sure enough, Boggs was rewarded with a free kick 25 yards from the DePaul net. Boggs' goal lifted USF's overall record to 12-2-2, 6-2-2 in the BIG EAST.
"I was on the shot, but the ball bent my wrist back and dropped into the net," Ferrari said. "The next time, I'll know to bend my wrist a little forward. I won't let that happen again."
It was the only time the Bulls could solve this long-armed freshman.
Fernando Gonzalez had a point-blank rebound shot 10 yards from the goal that Ferrari somehow stopped.
Sebastian Thuriere had an open look inside the penalty box that Ferrari snuffed.
Hasani Sinclair had Ferrari dead-to-rights and couldn't score.
"Mostly, my defense did a great job forcing USF's shooters off to the side and I could cut down the angle," Ferrari said. "There were a few shots in the box. I just did my best to cover the shots and not allow any rebounds.
"All the seniors have helped me become more vocal. The more I communicate with the defense, the better we all play. All those guys, even the forwards, did their jobs defensively---and I tried to hold up my end."
Up next for DePaul (8-8-1, 5-5-0 in the BIG EAST) is a regular-season finale at St. John's on Saturday that could determine home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
NOTES: The race for a home playoff game has tightened up in the Red Division... St. John's and Villanova are tied for third place with 16 points and DePaul is fifth with 15 points... the third and fourth-place teams will host a first-round game... Villanova plays at first-place Louisville on Saturday while DePaul and St. John's battle it out in Queens, N.Y... how even was the match with USF? Both teams took 16 shots, both goalies had six saves apiece, both teams committed 11 fouls each and USF had seven shots on goal to six for the Blue Demons... Mangan led the offense with six shots (two on goal) while Vroom and Aguilar each took three shots.