Tampa, Fla. – The No. 20-ranked FGCU Eagles advanced to the second round of the NCAA College Cup for the first time in program history after a dramatic, historic night in Tampa, Fla. The Eagles needed penalty kicks to take down regional rivals South Florida, but prevailed 3-0 in the shootout to move on. They face North Carolina on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Chapel Hill, N.C. next.
Albert Ruiz, the nation's leading goal scorer, stepped up to take the decisive penalty kick and was confident of the outcome, turning to his teammates before walking to the spot and saying "We're going to the next round." The star forward stepped up and converted the game-winning penalty kick as he sent the South Florida keeper the wrong way and then was mobbed by his teammates in celebration. Rielee Mohsin and Miguel Jaime also converted their penalty kicks, while Jared Brown only need to make one save, as South Florida didn't hit the target on two kicks.
The lottery of penalty kicks followed an exciting, up and down 110 minutes, in which both sides found the back of the net twice. Ruiz got the scoring started in the 20th minute, when he was found in the box after great flank work from Jiro Barriga Toyama and Arion Sobers-Assue, and the ASUN Player of the Year made no mistake to score his 21st goal of the season. The Eagles nearly found a second a few minutes later, but Jaime's shot was saved by the USF keeper Stefanovic.
South Florida capitalized on its first real chance of the half in the 43rd minute, as Luis Garza and Bradley Farias combined in the box, then Farias laid it off to Lindo Mfeka who buried a low drive into the corner for the equalizer. Both teams headed into the break tied 1-1, while FGCU had a 6-2 shot advantage in the first period.
The goal seemed to give momentum to South Florida, as the Bulls came out of the locker room pressing the Eagles into the defensive half and maintaining possession. That pressure paid off in the 54th minute, when Marcus Epps was wide open at the penalty spot and slotted home his right footed shot to give South Florida the 2-1 lead. The Eagles needed a response and Coach Butehorn went to the bench to look for some energy.
That's what he found in Shak Adams and Dennis Zapata who closed down the Bulls midfielders and began to reestablish possession for the Eagles. Midfielder Justin Gavin then got the reward for his hustle play in the 61st minute to pull the Eagles even. He blocked a clearance attempt and ran the ball down in the box. With two defenders around him, Gavin was still able to get a deflected shot off and the ball trickled by the keeper to knot the match up at 2-2.
The score remained that way in regulation as both sides looked for a game-winner. Preston Kilwien came closest for FGCU when rocketed a 35-yard free kick towards the top right corner, but Stefanovic was able to push the ball over the crossbar. On the other end, Brown made a good save when he punched a bouncing header over his bar to safety to thwart any Bulls attack. In the two overtime periods, neither side wanted to risk much or make a crucial mistake. Both teams settled for penalty kicks, where the Eagles kept their composure to advance.
No. 20 FGCU advances to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time and now faces No. 10 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The match will kick off at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20th.
FGCU vs. South Florida NCAA College Cup First Round Notes
- The Eagles are the first ASUN team to advance to the second round of the NCAA College Cup since Jacksonville advanced to the second round in 2008. Jacksonville's second round opponent was also North Carolina.
- FGCU had never scored a goal in its previous three appearances in the NCAA College Cup. They scored two goals tonight, marking the 17th time in 20 games this season the Eagles scored two or more goals.
- Albert Ruiz continues to climb the ASUN single-season scoring charts with his 21st goal tonight. He is now tied for 11th all-time and is first since 2005 to score 21 in a single season. His opening goal today was the first goal scored by an ASUN team in the NCAA College Cup since 2010.
- Jared Brown continued his strong freshman campaign with a critical stop in penalty kicks. He has been the FGCU starter throughout the postseason and continues to help the Eagles win.
- The nation's leading offense added two more goals tonight to become the first NCAA team this season to reach 60 goals. No other team has scored 50, with No. 1 Maryland second in the nation at 49.