Quick: Which UCF Knights team has the best shot at winning an outright national championship right now?
If you said Men’s Soccer, you may very well be right.
The Knights lit up everything last year en route to a 13-3-3 record and a nation’s fifth-best 2.32 goals per game. They were 7th in total goals with 44 and led the nation in shots with 386 - an astounding 20 per game.
But all the fireworks aside, they finished the year one and done in the NCAA Tournament despite earning a bye to the second round. So just like with their volleyball counterparts, this is a team coming off an amazing year with a chip on its collective shoulder - a dangerous combination indeed.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Knights for 2019.
13-3-3, 5-1-1 and Regular Season Champions in The American, Lost in NCAA Second Round
Last year was something of a continuation from 2017, when the Knights lost only once after their belated home opener on October 4. Since then, UCF has gone 21-5-4, including its 1-1 start this season on the road.
Last year the Knights rode a wave of offense to five wins in seven conference matches and the regular season title in The American.
Seven UCF players made all-conference, including Player of the Year Cal Jennings, Keeper of the Year Yannik Oettl, and Midfielder of the Year Louis Perez.
The Knights hosted The American Tournament and shocked UConn in a wild semifinal, coming back from two goals down to win in dramatic fashion:
But then SMU played them into PKs in the final and came out on top, stealing the trophy out from under the Knights’ noses.
From there, UCF, ranked as high as 8th in major polls, earned a bye through the first round of the 48-team NCAA Tournament and hosted Lipscomb in the the second round. But again, the Soccer Gods did not smile upon the Knights, as the Bison defeated UCF 1-0 on a golden goal in OT.
Picked to win The American by the league’s coaches, #15 preseason in United Soccer Coaches’ Poll
The Knights are the favorite in The American, followed by SMU and UConn. UCF is also ranked 15th in the United Soccer Coaches’ Poll, despite beating #6 North Carolina and falling to #4 Wake Forest by one goal in their first two games.
Who’s in Charge
Calabrese is off to an amazing start heading into Year 3 of his UCF tenure. As mentioned earlier, after a 1-5-1 start in his first year where UCF didn’t play a home game until October due to weather, Calabrese has led the team to wins in 21 of their last 30 matches.
Last year, UCF won American Coaching Staff of the Year with their astounding run in the regular season.
Listen to Coach Calabrese preview the season on the Black & Gold Banneret Podcast:
Who to Watch
#3 Cal Jennings - Senior Forward
Jennings was a total revelation last year. After showing some signs late in 2017, Jennings finished second in the nation in goals with 20, behind only Andre Shinyashiki of the University of Denver, who had 28.
Jennings was conference Player of the Year and a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy, which is the Men’s Soccer equivalent of the Heisman. This year, he’s on the Hermann Watch List and was chosen as Preseason AAC Offensive Player of the Year.
#1 Yannik Oettl - Junior Goalkeeper
Oettl was last year’s AAC Keeper of the Year and East Regional First Teamer, and is picked to repeat that honor this year. He only had four clean sheets last season, but with a team that plays a run-and-shoot style like UCF does, he faces his fair share of shots on a nightly basis.
#10 Louis Perez - Junior Midfielder
Perez was the straw that stirred the drink in setting up Jennings for his unreal season, scoring three goals and recording five assists himself and earning AAC Midfielder of the Year honors. This year, he’s a Hermann Trophy watch lister himself and a unanimous all-conference selection.
#8 Yoni Sorokin - Junior Midfielder
Sorokin is the other half of the Knights’ dynamic midfielder duo, with four goals and five assists last season. He’s also a unanimous all-conference preseason first-teamer.
Who We’ll Miss
#11 Walker Dawkins
Dawkins was a key senior leader over his five years at UCF, and topped all of UCF’s seniors with four goals and four assists on 14 shots just one season after redshirting with an injury.
Who’s New That’s Good
#14 Gianluca Arcangeli - RS Freshman Midfielder
Making the most of his first weekend and scoring a goal apiece against two ranked opponents, @UCF_MSoccer's Gianluca Arcangeli has been named the #AmericanMSOC Offensive Player of the Week!— American MSoccer (@American_MSoc) September 2, 2019
: https://t.co/DKqV7hzoSN pic.twitter.com/acTwbAV3LI
Arcangeli has been quite the find for UCF in these first two games, scoring a pair of goals to go with a pair of assists against two of the top six teams in the nation, and earning American Offensive Player of the Week honors for his first two games as a Knight. Not bad.
Who’s On the Roster
- Four Seniors
- Five Juniors
- Eight Sophomores
- 11 Freshmen
- Seven Floridians, including three from Central Florida
- 17 international players
The Big Games
- September 6 vs. Penn State
- September 22 vs. South Carolina
- October 1 vs. FAU
- October 6 at SMU
- October 20 at UConn
- October 26 at South Florida
- October 29 vs. Stetson
- November 1 vs. Memphis
- November 9, 13, 16: American Men’s Soccer Championship
Note: The American Tournament changed formats this year, with the first round at campus sites of the higher seeds and the semis and final at the #1 seed’s home.
The Last Time...
UCF won an NCAA Tournament game: 2011. It was the second straight year UCF had advanced to the second round under Bryan Cunningham. The Knights defeated FGCU on a golden goal before losing to South Florida in the second round, also on a golden goal.
Last season was UCF’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since that season.
What to Watch for
The RPI. UCF ended the season 9th, which helped the committee determine they should host. Keep an eye on the RPI this year as the Knights have once again stacked their schedule. Two opening road games against #4 Wake Forest and #6 North Carolina should help, especially since UCF won the game in Chapel Hill. Should UCF land in the top ten again, they can host and possibly skip the first round again.
Who to Follow
- UCF Men’s Soccer: @UCF_MSoccer
- Coach Calabrese: @CoachCalabrese
- The American Men’s Soccer: @American_MSoc