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After winning just two games last season, the UCF men’s soccer team was looking for a hard rebound this season. And it got it, finishing 7-8-1 (3-4-1 American Athletic Conference) after dropping its first three games of the season.

“They never kind of lost their confidence and their belief in each other,” head coach Bryan Cunningham said. “Credit to the players because they’ve responded.”

The Knights open up the AAC Championships Saturday night at 7 p.m., facing Tulsa in Oklahoma. The team has confidence going into the one-game elimination tournament after winning each of its final two games 1-0 at home.

“To get this win, hopefully it gives us a little momentum going into next week,” Cunningham said after the team’s 1-0 win over Cincinnati on Oct. 31.

The Knights have faced every team in the AAC at least once, and they lost to Tulsa at home, 1-0, Oct. 10 during the teams’ only matchup.

UCF had to beat the Bearcats if it wanted to have a chance to host a quarterfinal matchup, but they also needed USF to beat UConn — which didn’t happen. That meant the Knights secured the No. 5 seed and would have to play on the road.

“Going into this tournament, whether we’re home or away … anybody can beat anybody,” Cunningham said before he knew the team’s fate. “I feel like we can beat anybody that we’re going to face.”

He wasn’t worried either way because he knows his team can compete with anybody in the league, especially while UCF is currently in the midst of holding opponents scoreless for 197 minutes of play.

“Coming off two shutouts and two wins, with that momentum carrying us to the conference tournament, hopefully we’re not done here,” senior defender Mason Miller said.

Oct. 31 was a night to remember for the conference as all eight seeds were decided after the final outcome of each game.

“It speaks volumes about the league that first and second place was going to be settled tonight and seeds three through eight were going to be settled today,” Cunningham said after the Knights’ win.

SMU and USF have certainly separated themselves from the rest of the pack, though. The Mustangs finished as the top team in the conference, posting a 12-2-3 record overall, 7-0-1 in the AAC and finishing as the No. 12 team in the NCAA. The Bulls closed the regular season ranked No. 8 nationally with a 10-4-1 record (5-1-2 AAC).

Senior Hadji Barry has excelled during his second year at UCF. After posting just one goal last season, Barry trained hard during the offseason and led his team with nine goals and three assists for 21 points in 16 games. Sophomore Matias Pyysalo was next in line with six goals and eight assists for 20 points.

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Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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