Temple had a difficult challenge on Saturday against South Florida.
The Owls needed a road win against the best team in the conference to qualify for the American Athletic Conference postseason tournament. The team went undefeated at home this year, but entered the match 2-4 in road games.
South Florida scored in the 64th minute, and the rest of the game was an uphill battle for Temple.
The Owls could not capitalize on opportunities throughout the game, and their season ended Saturday night with a 1-0 loss to the Bulls.
“They were a very good team,” coach David MacWilliams said. “It was a tough game, but we battled. I’m proud of the way the guys played. The effort was there, they worked really hard, they really wanted it, but we just fell a little bit short.”
Battling back from a difficult situation was not uncommon for the Owls (10-6-2, 2-3-2 The American) this season. Since the start of conference play, Temple has played in a couple of must-win games.
Temple went 1-2-1 to start conference play to earn only four points. After another draw, the Owls found themselves in sixth in the conference standings. In order to qualify for The American’s postseason tournament, Temple had to be in the top four teams of the conference.
The Owls finished sixth with eight points.
“If you take one of the games that we tied, either the Memphis or the Tulsa game, you win one of those games and we’re sitting in a much better position,” MacWilliams said. “We would’ve had two more points, so we’d be sitting in second place with a much better chance of making the playoffs, but you can’t go back.”
The Owls tied Tulsa on Oct. 22 to keep their postseason hopes alive. The next Saturday, they beat Central Florida in overtime thanks to a goal from senior midfielder Jorge Gomez Sanchez. A win against South Florida would’ve given Temple 11 points in the conference and put them in third as long as neither Connecticut nor Cincinnati won their final games, which neither of them did.
Saturday was the fourth time the Owls got shutout against an American Athletic Conference opponent. Temple led The American in shots in conference games but was last in scoring.
“We’ve been having trouble finding people to score,” said redshirt-junior defender Mark Grasela. “It’s all been Jorge and a couple others.”
Temple outshot the Bulls 11-8, but couldn’t capitalize on chances. As time dwindled, the Owls became desperate for a goal, knowing it was the only way to salvage their season. Temple logged four shots in the final 20 minutes, but also racked up six fouls and drew two yellow cards.
The Owls hoped to utilize set pieces like corner kicks and free kicks to score, particularly because South Florida’s only conference loss came as a result of converted set pieces by Cincinnati. However, Temple only had two corner kicks during the game.
“When games become so tight like this, set pieces become a big part of the game,” MacWilliams said. “They were a small team and we wanted to take advantage of that, but we didn’t get many corner kicks, and when we did, they did a good job clearing them.”
For Gomez Sanchez and six other seniors, Saturday was their final game as an Owl.
Even though Temple didn’t qualify for the playoffs, the seniors have still had a successful season. This is Temple’s third season in four years with 10 wins. The team won its first American Athletic Conference road game since 2013 and beat Penn State on the road for the first time since 1989.
“I think there’s been some ups and downs in our season,” senior defender Matt Mahoney said. “But overall, we have a winning season. It’s bittersweet, being here the past four years. I can’t really imagine not playing anymore, but also, hopefully I’m ready to move on and play professionally somewhere, so it’s good and bad at the same time, but I’m not really trying to think about it too much.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.