Knights return to action with postseason hopes
Published: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 06:08
Coming off of a historic season, the UCF men’s soccer team enters the 2012 campaign with expectations of exceeding its recent success.
Spending most of 2011 ranked in the top 25, the Knights have reached not only the Conference USA semifinals the last two seasons, but also the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“The last two years we feel like we’ve left a few games out there in the NCAA tournament,” head coach Bryan Cunningham said. “I think these players have a taste for it, but they know we’ve left some cards on the table.”
Cunningham, now in his sixth season as UCF head coach, has led the Knights to consecutive NCAA postseason appearances for the first time since the 2002-2004 seasons.
The Knights began 2011 on an impressive 6-0-1 run, knocking off a pair of nationally ranked teams along the way. UCF finished the regular season third in the conference, with an overall record of 12-6-3 and a conference record of 4-3-1.
They were led by now-junior forward McKauly Tulloch, who produced a team-high 34 points while scoring 15 goals. Both were good enough to rank the Kingston, Jamaica native second in the conference.
“It’s good to be back as an upperclassman and to lead the younger guys from the front line, in the locker room and on the field,” Tulloch said.
Tulloch, along with defenseman Andrew Quintana, were two of 13 players selected to the C-USA preseason all-conference team.
Quintana, a senior and new team captain, played a team-high 1,938 minutes in 21 games for UCF last season.
“It’s an honor that coach Cunningham has that kind of faith in me,” Quintana said. “It’s nice to know that he has that trust in me to be able to lead the team.”
Despite losing two key players to the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Cunningham feels confident in his squad moving forward with the offseason additions of nine new players. Five freshmen and four transfers will wear black and gold for the first time, including Jamaica-native Deshorn Brown.
Brown, who most recently played collegiate soccer at the University of Mobile, led all National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics players with 32 goals and was selected to the NAIA All-America first team. Brown grew up playing high school soccer against Tulloch, and their Jamaican chemistry has shown throughout UCF’s first exhibition matches.
“It makes me more confident to have players from Jamaica,” Tulloch said. “It’s all about chemistry, and we’ve got that Jamaican blood.”
Both Brown and Tulloch scored goals in the final ten minutes of Friday’s 2-2 exhibition draw against Mercer. Brown also assisted Tulloch’s goal.
“It’s a great feeling to play for UCF,” Brown said. “It’s always good to play with people who you know. Even the new guys treat me like they’ve known me before.”
Between the pipes for the Knights in 2012 will be goalkeeper Sebastian Evers, who went 3-2-1 last season while playing in nine games. The junior allowed 12 goals and made 37 saves in 2011.
UCF wrapped up its six-day, three-match preseason schedule Sunday, and will kick off the regular season at Florida Atlantic University Aug. 24. The Knights will return to Orlando Sept. 1 for their home opener against Old Dominion.
UCF will play eight of its 17 games at home, including key games against in-state foes Florida International University and Stetson, and conference matchups against nationally ranked University of Alabama at Birmingham and Southern Methodist University.
The Knights will be challenged this season on the road when they travel to South Carolina to play the reigning C-USA regular season champions.
The eight C-USA matches this season will be the last for UCF, as it’s reached its final season before moving over to the Big East. The Knights have never won a C-USA championship, and will look to steal the title before making the leap to the Big East.
“We’ve had some great moments here in Conference-USA, and we just want to be there at the end — competing for a conference title,” Cunningham said. “That’s a few months away with this group, but they know what’s at stake, and they know that we’ve come a long way. This conference has been very good to us, and we just want to pay them respect and hopefully leave here with a championship.”