VIERA — The University of Florida and University of Central Florida may have been represented by club soccer teams Saturday, but the facts that they not only came from those beloved institutions but were willing to share their knowledge and skills was enough to draw several hundred children to a pre-match clinic and a good number of adults to the game itself.
That they play association football with passion and conviction didn’t hurt either, and in that regard, UCF came out the winner, edging the Gators 2-1 at Viera High School.
The Knights took the lead early, with goals in the third and fifth minute by junior striker Giovanni DiMauro, the closer-in first one provided by Austin Masi and the second, a blast past out-of-position Gators goalkeeper Nate Johnson.
The Gators settled down with time and Jeremy Gardner pulled one back in the 85th minute, but the Gainesville contingent could not find the net otherwise.
The Gators’ first-half performance was easily understood by people who have seen late-afternoon sports at the stadium, with the sun in their faces.
“The first half, we couldn’t see; we were looking right up into the sun,” senior midfielder Tomas McDowell, a graduate of Melbourne High School, said. “After the sun went down, we played well.”
DiMauro and Johnson gave their teammates and the crowd reason for concern with two minutes in the match, when they collided and were left sprawled on the pitch, the result of which was a cut face for Johnson and a severely cut head for DiMauro.
McDowell was one of four local men who played in the match. Junior James Bocinsky is a graduate of West Shore; sophomore Drew Geyer is a Titusville High School alumnus and sophomore Zach Stewart also is a Mel-Hi grad.
Disappointed as they were with the result, they were delighted to participate in the homecoming clinic.
“It’s great to come back and see all these kids and how much they love the game,” said Bocinsky.
Geyer was philosophical. “I don’t think these kids realize how much sports give them when they’re young, and how much it stays with them,” said Geyer, who intends to coach youth soccer players on summer break. “To be able to come back and share something with them means a lot to me.”
It meant a lot to the kids, too.
“I came because it’s soccer and I play soccer and I love soccer,” said Winnie von Eschen of Viera, who plays for Space Coast United’s Under-9 academy team. “It has been a lot of fun and I learned something.”
Her brother Benjamin, who plays for an Under-12 recreational team for SCU, wanted to learn about goalkeeping. “Goalkeeping is my favorite position and I wanted to pick up some goalkeeping tips from college players,” he said.
Such comments brought smiles from Stewart, who called the day, “definitely a trip down memory lane.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve played here but this was the first time I lost on this field,” he said. “But it was nice to come back and especially nice to work with the children, especially the little ones. It was fun.”