By Matthew Polek
Coming off a Sunshine State Conference title last year, the UT men’s soccer team came into the 2018 season looking to add on to that success.
Unfortunately for them, that hasn’t been the case early on this year, getting off to a 0-1-3 start. Ranked 23 in the country, the Spartans hosted West Florida in their season opener.
Through 110 minutes of play, neither team was able to get the ball in the back of the net and the game ended in a scoreless tie.
Next on the schedule for the Spartans was Spring Hill. In minute 41 freshman forward Julius Becker scored the first goal of the year for Tampa, giving the Spartans a 1-0 lead. In the second half, Spring Hill was able to tie and take the lead, and they would go on to win 2-1.
Although the Spartans came up short, senior defender Ramzi Toure believed the score didn’t reflect the play on the field.
“Against Spring Hill we believed we deserved a win after the performance we put out,” said Toure. “We have a lot of new players this year and it’s natural that it takes some time before we get used to each other.”
After the loss to Spring Hill, the Spartans took on North Georgia on the road. Tampa took a 2-1 lead into the half thanks to goals by sophomore forward Till Neumann and freshman forward Amgad Salah. North Georgia would tie the game at two before the Spartans would find the back of the net twice in less than a minute, forward Marcel Salokat and junior forward Juancho Fernandez gave the Spartans a 4-2 lead.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, this lead didn’t hold up, as North Georgia would tie the game at four, and force the Spartans to play another extra time game. Once again, neither team would score in OT and the game finished in a 4-4 draw.
Becker believes that the team was too relaxed when they had a two goal lead.
“I think that we play well and it’s getting better game to game,” said Becker “The problem is just that we are sometimes too comfortable with a lead, and that’s why we give up games like North Georgia when we were up 4-2 with 15 minutes to go. We need to play harder and develop our killer instinct.”
Throughout a rough start to the year, Head Coach Adrian Bush keeps the message to his players the same.
“We have to put in a good day’s work every day,” Bush said. “Our region is the toughest in the country. Reality is, we have 23 new players. We have to stay true to the process.”
On Saturday, the Spartans continued their road trip with a visit to Clayton State in Georgia. In minute 33, freshman forward Travis Foster scored his first career goal for the Spartans, giving them a 1-0 lead. Once again, that lead wouldn’t last long as Clayton State tied it in minute 44.
For the third time in their first four games, the Spartans would have to play an extra 20 minutes, and just like the two before this one, it would end in a draw.
Although the team doesn’t have a win yet to its name this season, Bush is still happy with his team’s effort.
“We just had a two game road trip where we had 62 shots in two games, we are certainly getting battle tested having to play four games in eight days and three of those going into extra time,” Bush said. “It’s games like that which prepare us for SSC play. I’m pleased with the effort put out by this team.”
With a young team like the Spartans have it’s normal for some early bumps in the road, but they believe it won’t be long before they’re back on track.
“We keep working every day, we want to get better every day,” added Becker. “We don’t have much time to think about a loss or celebrate a win, we play every 3-4 days so we need to keep our head up.”
The Spartans play again on Saturday at Nova Southeastern at 6 p.m.
Matthew Polek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org