Going into Tuesday night’s matchup, UCF head coach Bryan Cunningham preached that the team’s final non-conference game of the season was a much-needed win.
UCF (5-6-1, 1-2-1 in AAC) got the win over Stetson (4-7-1, 0-2-0 in Atlantic Sun Conference), 2-1.
“You have to win that game,” Cunningham said. “I wouldn’t say a must win, but really for our mentality I think and for the league, it was very important.”
The Knights came out of the gates a bit slower than usual, but picked up the pace after allowing a goal nine minutes into the match. They controlled the majority of possession throughout the remainder of the game.
In the 18th minute, senior midfielder Hadji Barry became the first Knight to score eight goals since Romario Williams put up 10 in 2013.
“We had probably pretty close to 15 or more passes that led to that goal, which is what we’ve harped on here the last couple days,” Cunningham said. “For them to come out, maintain a little possession, move the ball around and then find some openings and score a great goal, I think was just a real credit to the players.”
Barry’s tally came from about 23 yards out on a shot that was rocketed past every defender and the Hatters’ goalkeeper. He leads the team with 18 points in 12 games. He had a few key chances in the second half but couldn’t capitalize for his first two-goal game of the season.
Knights’ freshman goalkeeper Brendan Rennie got his first start between the pipes, and almost got himself in trouble in the 10th minute. After Rennie misjudged the ball and came extremely far out of his net, Stetson forward Daniel O’Brien had an empty-net chance. Sophomore defender Neico Regent hustled back to clear the ball before it crossed the goal line as he slid into the net.
“I don’t know if a week ago he would have done that,” Cunningham said. “From what the linesman said, it wasn’t even close — that’s how he fast he got there. He got there a yard before it was going in.”
Stetson came back to attack the Knights’ net in the 55th minute, but Rennie made a diving stop to bat the ball into the ground. The ball bounced just over the net and nestled itself on top of the mesh.
“[Rennie] did well,” Cunningham said. “He’s progressively getting better in practice and pushing with Zach Biggs, and we thought tonight was an opportune time to give him a little start.”
Sophomore midfielder Matias Pyysalo picked up his fifth goal of the season when he sent a beam of a shot into the top right corner of the net. The goal came in the 67th minute from just outside the 18-yard goal box.
“Once it left his feet, I just shouted out, ‘Yes,’” Regent said. “I knew it was a goal. It was just beautiful.”
UCF embarks on a two-game road stand Oct. 17 when it takes on UConn at 7 p.m.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.