Last year may have been full of adversity for the UCF men’s soccer team, but with the 2015 season just days away, the Knights are looking to strengthen their weaknesses from a season ago.
The Knights, who finished the preseason undefeated, start their fall campaign welcoming Florida Atlantic University to the UCF Soccer and Track Stadium on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.
“The season is a marathon,” head coach Bryan Cunningham said. “The young guys [who] have come in, have come in with a lot of maturity. If we can just carry the same attitude we had during preseason into these last few days of training and into Friday night, we’ll just be fine.”
Last year, UCF finished with an overall record of 2-10-6, including 1-3-4 in conference play. Top scorer Romario Williams, who netted seven of the team’s 15 goals is gone. And the team welcomes 11 new faces to the 20-player roster, including 10 true freshmen.
After finishing with just one victory at home last season, the emergence of Knights Watch, UCF men’s soccer’s supporters group, could serve as the well-needed 12th man to the team of just four upperclassmen.
Hadji Barry, who tallied three goals in two preseason games but just one all of last season, will lead the UCF attack after a stint with Orlando City U-23s during the summer. His rise in form has even led to some praise from Cunningham, who he believes can be a huge factor in UCF’s offensive line.
“He had a great spring with us,” Cunningham said. “He’s worked really hard in the weight room, and working hard on his fitness. He had a great summer with Orlando City’s U-23s and scored some goals for them, and he just carried that confidence into our preseason. He’s doing little, simple things and doing his job and, I think when he does that, he’s going to score some goals.”
Barry will also get some help from a solid but young midfield, including freshman Jakov Basic, who finished the preseason with a free-kick goal.
Basic will be accompanied by senior team captain Mason Miller and sophomore Matias Pyysalo in the midfield, focusing on providing service to Barry to slot the ball into the net. Miller said chemistry among the team and in the midfield will lead to positive results as the season goes on.
“Hadji is a big threat up top,” Miller said. “We worked our butts off in the spring and got a lot accomplished, so we’re going to take that same work ethic and bring it over to the fall. We want to open the season on a good note, and playing a good side in FAU is always a good test to make that happen.”
The defensive line may not be touched as much this season. Most of the goals produced during the preseason were from the midfield, especially on set-pieces and on the counter.
Pyysalo pulled the strings for much of UCF’s final preseason game against Lynn. The Finnish attacking midfielder is looking to maintain the creation of such chances for the strikers. With the creation of space as one of his strengths, the second-year Knight is confident that goals will come as long as there’s a lethal striker waiting to bury the ball.
“The fact that I can connect with Hadji, the wingers and the midfield, it builds up our play,” Pyysalo said. “We’re trying to create from the midfield and to get those assists. It builds my confidence. It benefits that team. One of my strengths is dribbling with the ball and creating space.”
Mike Gramajo is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.