Men's Soccer is our final season preview for the fall, and this team might be the most interesting. The Knights have at once a new coach, the best player in the conference, and a road-heavy schedule that may give them a great chance to win The American.
Listen to an interview with the Knights' new head coach, Scott Calabrese on the Black & Gold Banneret Podcast:
The Knights were picked to finish in fourth in the eight-team American - exactly where they finished last year. UConn is the preseason favorite (and ranked 14th in the United Soccer Coaches poll), followed by Tulsa and USF, who beat the Knights last year in the AAC Tournament.
5-11, 3-4 in The American, 4th place. It was one of the weirdest seasons in recent memory. The Knights lost their first three, and two of their first five matches were canceled. They lost eight one-goal games, including the season finale in the American Athletic Conference Tournament at USF, a 2-1 2OT heart-breaker:
The end result was head coach Bryan Cunningham was let go after ten seasons, two NCAA appearances and eight MLS draftees. Cunningham landed on his feet, and is now the head coach at Mount St. Mary's, who is re-starting their program after they shuttered it following the 2012 season.
Who's in Charge
Scott Calabrese. Calabrese comes to UCF from FIU, where he amassed a 28-23-3 record, including a Conference USA title and NCAA appearance in 2015. Prior to that, Calabrese spent six seasons at East RTennessee State, where he was their program's inaugural head coach, winning two Atlantic Sun Conference titles. He was also an assistant at Clemson and North Carolina.
Interestingly, Calabrese was also an assistant from 2002-2003 with the Carolina Courage of the WUSA, where one of the players he coached was his current counterpart with the UCF Women's Soccer team, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak.
Who to Watch
#10 Matias Pyysalo (Senior M/F - Helsinki, Finland) - 2016 American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, 2017 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Pyssalo is a scoring machine. He racked up ten goals last year, and is already second all-time at UCF in career goals with 18 (McKauly Tulloch is the all-time leader with 20). His best moment last year came against UConn, when he put home an overtime goal:
Who We'll Miss
Javier Clavijo. The lone true senior on the team last year excelled on the defensive end for the Knights, starting double-figure games in all four years. Although he scored on only one career goal, his presence at midfield will be missed.
Who's on the Roster
- Four seniors, ten juniors, nine freshmen
- 12 Floridians
- Three from Central Florida (two from WInter Springs)
- 9 international players
When the Big Games Are
- Friday, August 25th at Duke
- Friday, September 1st vs. #15 Charlotte
- Tuesday, September 12th vs. FIU
- Saturday, September 23rd at USF
- Wednesday, October 4th vs. Stetson
- Sunday, October 15th vs. Tulsa
- Saturday, October 21st at #24 UConn
- Saturday, October 28th vs. Temple (Senior Day)
The Last Time...
Last Conference Title: 2004 (Regular Season), 2004 (Tournament). It's been 13 years since UCF last won their league. That was in the Atlantic Sun days, when the Knights defeated Mercer to win the A-Sun in Macon to win their third straight A-Sun Tournament title, and then went on to defeat FIU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before finally falling to Wake Forest. Head coach Bob Winch went on from leading UCF to join Auburn's women's team as an assistant.
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011. It was UCF's second consecutive NCAA appearance at the time. The Knights defeated Florida Gulf Coast in double overtime in the first round before falling to USF in the second, also in extra time. The previous year, UCF knocked off USF 3-0 at home in the first round before falling to Michigan.
What to Keep an Eye on
The record books. As mentioned earlier, Matias Pyysalo is two goals behind McKauley Tulloch for the all-time school lead in career goals, and has the potential to set a new single-season school mark, which currently stands at 15, also held by Tulloch.