September 21, 2018 | ° F

South Florida ends Knights’ AAC run

Freshman goalkeeper David Greczek could do nothing but lie on his back on the Toyota Stadium turf, staring into the Frisco, Tex. sky Friday night with his hands and legs sprawled.

He was shell-shocked.

Despite Greczek’s career-high 12 saves, the Rutgers men’s soccer team’s run in the AAC Tournament ended with a 2-1 double-overtime semifinal loss to South Florida.

Bulls’ forward Stiven Salinas found an opening between four defenders above the left side of the box and launched a shot past a leaping Greczek into the net’s right corner in the 103rd minute.

It effectively ended the eighth-seeded Knights’ (7-11-2, 2-5-1) season and push for an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

“Obviously, we are disappointed. It was a hard-fought game and credit to South Florida, a very good team,” said head coach Dan Donigan in a statement.  “I thought both goalies played well, in particular [Greczek] made some great saves to keep us in it. It’s never fun to go out like that but hats off to South Florida.”

The fifth-seeded Bulls (8-3-8, 2-4-4), whom Rutgers tied in double-overtime Oct. 19 at Yurcak Field, kept the Knights at bay most of the night.

South Florida controlled the clock and threatened with five other shots in the overtimes before the game winner. Rutgers, meanwhile, struggled to retain possession.

The Knights recorded no shots after regulation and only five in the second half, often showing timidity and trepidation in the midfield.

As a result of South Florida’s superior speed and physicality, few lanes opened for senior forward Kene Eze. Rutgers’ co-leading scorer took only two shots in his final career game.

Despite limited chances, the Knights created two golden opportunities in the second half that will likely linger in their minds into the offseason.

Off a free kick above the left side of the box in the 68th minute, sophomore midfielder Mael Corboz sent a cross on target that goalkeeper Brentton Muhammad deflected. Freshman midfielder Erik Sa scrambled for the loose ball, just missing wide left off the outside of the net.

Corboz nearly had his way about three minutes earlier as well. Sophomore forward J.P. Correa cradled the ball along the right side of the box, beat his defender off the dribble and fed Corboz a few yards in front of the middle of the field.

Muhammad again rescued the Bulls, deflecting Corboz’s point-blank shot.

The nearly 100-minute long stalemate ensured after the teams traded goals in the opening minutes.

After Rutgers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, forward Edwin Moalosi sped ahead of two defenders in the seventh minute and received a pass inside the box, drawing out Greczek.

Moalosi dribbled around Greczek and crisply hooked a shot into the back of the net past sophomore defenders Ross Tetro and Drew Morgan.

Corboz quickly gave Rutgers its only lead in the third minute. Centered directly above the box, the Pingry (N.J.) School product collected his seventh goal of the year off multiple headers.

But it was one of only three shots on goal for the Knights, who ultimately fell victim to an aggressive Bulls attack that generated 23 shots — 14 on target.

For a team that failed to win in the regular season since Oct. 5, Donigan had few complaints.

“To go out to Louisville and play Cincinnati [on Nov. 8], have a convincing win, turn around the next night and knock off the No. 1 seed in Louisville, who is a tremendous team, says a lot about the character and resiliency of our program,” Donigan said in a statement. “South Florida has only lost three games. There’s something to be said about that. To be able to compete with these guys toe-to-face, face-to-face, I’m very proud of our program.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

By Greg Johnson

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