The Owls weren’t supposed to be here. After being picked dead last in the preseason coaches’ poll, Temple earned a fourth seed in The American Conference tournament and a home game against fifth-seeded South Florida.
After battling the Bulls for 90 minutes, the Owls couldn’t overcome a slow and sloppy start, losing 1-0 Saturday afternoon at the Ambler Sports Complex.
“The first 15 minutes were key for us,” coach David MacWilliams said. “We wanted to be in their half of the field and it ended up being the exact opposite of what we wanted. They did a great job of looking for balls, playing long balls and playing through the seams.”
South Florida dominated most of the first half as Temple was forced to play a lot in their end. The Bulls are a relatively small team with a load of speed. They used that speed to penetrate the Owls defense early on but junior goalkeeper Dan Scheck was there for the answer.
Then, just as Temple started to find a groove in terms of possession, the Bulls were able to strike with just 31 seconds left in the half. Stiven Salinas was on the right end of a long ball from midfield. Salinas, who was in free after making a run, composed himself and was able to lift the ball by Scheck for a nifty finish.
“That was a momentum killer,” MacWilliams said. “Our goal was always to never give up a goal in the first 10 minutes or the last 10 minutes of a half, and we gave this one up with 31 seconds left. I could tell at halftime when we went in, the guys were pretty quiet, we had our work cut out for us.”
The Owls found their groove in the second half, getting balls deep into the South Florida end but were never able to convert. On two different occasions sophomore Jared Martinelli had a free kick from just outside the South Florida box, but each time he drove the ball right into the Bulls wall of defenders.
South Florida kept the pressure up and the Owls were getting frustrated, desperate for a goal. Two seniors Sawyer Hemmer and Ryan Bradbury, who may have been playing in their final game for Temple, were given yellow cards in the second half. The Owls were pressing.
“We were obviously frustrated,” MacWilliams said. “If you look across the conference, we probably have one of the lowest yellow-card percentages and even fouls. I just think there was some frustration. Unfortunately that happens in games like this
Temple kept battling, looking for an equalizing goal. With five minutes to play, freshman defenseman Stefan Mueller was subbed out for the first time all season in favor of an extra midfielder.
The extra player on the attack allowed the Owls to increase pressure. It resulted in two corner kicks in the final two minutes, including a one with 15 seconds left. Each time, the Owls got a head on the ball but couldn’t get it by the South Florida keeper.
The loss may not have ended the Owls season, though it will make it much more difficult to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Temple needs some help from other teams, which is never a comfortable feeling.
“It’s been a great season,” MacWilliams said. “We’re not saying it’s over. We’re going to hope for some luck but it doesn’t look like the odds are in our favor right now.”