At last, after failing in three previous tries - two of them on their own field - the UCF Knights Men’s Soccer team broke through on Saturday to win the American Athletic Conference Championship, 1-0 over Tulsa at home. It’s the Knights’ first conference tournament championship since 2004, when they were in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
For the Knights, three years of frustration came to an end. After winning three consecutive regular season titles but having no tournament titles to show for it, UCF could finally hoist the postseason trophy that has so cruelly eluded them the last three seasons.
The winning tally came off the foot of Lucca Dourado on a phenomenal strike nine minutes in:
From there it was all Yannik Oettl. The All-Tournament pick and Most Outstanding Defensive Player pulled down another five saves for his second clean sheet in as many games in the tournament, and had a little bit of help from VAR along the way:
In the final two minutes, Tulsa’s best chance came and went with a wide open attempt hitting the side of the net. The time ticked down, and it was over:
For Scott Calabrese, it’s the happy ending to a season that began poorly at 1-3, with two of those losses coming to the Golden Hurricane. Since then, UCF has gone unbeaten in nine straight (the only draw was the semifinal against SMU, which UCF won in penalty kicks, but it still counts as a draw officially). His bath postgame must have been cathartic to say the least:
Killing off the Ghosts
The Knights’ two-match run required them to knock off the ghosts who haunted them in the past.
It started in the semis against SMU, a team who had crushed the Knights’ conference tournament dreams each of the last three seasons, plus once in the NCAA Tournament in 2019. It took a monumental effort by Oettl and a dramatic PK session, but UCF finally did it.
ICYMI: GK Yannick Oettl literally saved @UCF_MSoccer in @American_MSoc semis with an incredible 9 saves in a 1-1 (4-3) PK victory over their arch-rivals from SMU.#UCF faces Tulsa Saturday at home at 7 p.m. for the conference title. https://t.co/OAgWtas2ZS— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) April 16, 2021
But the semis win was only half of the equation. The Knights still needed to win on Saturday, or else their season could be over, given that the NCAA field has been truncated to 36 from the usual 48 teams. To do so, they had to knock off a team who beat them 1-0 in the opener and 3-1 in Orlando in the fourth game of the year.
Again, Oettl was up to the task. After the game, he was his usual reflective self:
The Knights now await who they play in the NCAA Tournament, which they will find out on Monday at noon.
The Tournament will take place entirely in Cary, North Carolina.