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UCF Men's Soccer Up for the Challenge in 2006

In August, 20 young men - 14 of them freshmen - joined eight veterans to form the 2006 UCF men's soccer team. With two weeks' worth of preseason training, those 28 players came up against their first challenge as the Golden Knights, taking on the first of seven nationally ranked opponents during opening weekend.

After dropping a 5-0 decision to No. 18 and tournament host Wake Forest, the Golden Knights rebounded for a 1-0 loss to No. 5 North Carolina. That weekend the team truly began to show its character.

"The team's number one strength this year was their resilience," said UCF head coach Brent Erwin, who is in his second year at the helm of the program. "We had a tough schedule to start and also spent a lot of time of the road. These guys went through so much early in the season, and yet they put together some good performances. Although we would play well against teams, sometimes we wouldn't get the result we wanted. Still, the players stuck to the game plan."

Because of the roster featured so many talented newcomers, fans and opponents alike may not have recognized a lot of the names on the season's earlier box scores. It didn't take long before those same players became familiar as each one of them made valuable contributions.

"We started the season as an extremely young team, but mid-way through we no longer considered ourselves to be inexperienced. By then, all the freshmen had played," said Erwin. And in fact, four rookies earned starting roles out of the preseason and by the season's mid-point, seven had seen significant minutes in matches against ranked opponents like No. 13 Kentucky and top-ranked SMU.

The transfers also proved their worth quickly. Sophomores Zak Boggs and Ryan Roushandel found their way to the top of the stat sheet early in the year. Their classmate Marcus Rein was the team's go-to goalkeeper. Even so, every one of the players from veterans like seniors Peter Archer and Mark Wong to transfers like James Georgeff and Chris Andaur to freshmen Jamal Robinson and Akin Akinrinade played a part.

"Zak Boggs and Ryan Roushandel may have been the ones to who statically led this team, but they were supported completely by their teammates," said Erwin. "The way that these players have come together has been an important part of our success during the season. We have a lot of individuals on this team whose worth wasn't contingent upon statistics and that maybe don't necessarily get the credit they deserved. The team, the coaches and the fans...we know who those guys are."

It was a real collective effort from all the players that gave the Golden Knights some of their season highlights. Among them were the team's first road victory of the season - a 1-0 victory over Furman - and the 1-0 shutout of then No. 17-ranked Memphis at home. Still no matter what the team accomplished during the season, Erwin continued to keep perspective and take the matches as they came.

"The way we look at it as a team is that we are never satisfied," he said. "We're always trying to improve every area. The aspects that we are good at, we try to perfect. The aspects we aren't great at, we try to improve. That is what makes athletics and this sport a challenge is that you always have to push yourself and you can never rest on your laurels."

And although UCF had its share of glory and defeat during the year, Erwin saw more than just a glimpse of what the Golden Knights could become.

"We won't lose a great deal of experienced talent for two or three years," said Erwin. "Because these young players were able to get the experience they did so early in their careers, they will be of even further value later. The sophomores on this year's team were considered veterans and because of that we looked to them for their leadership as well. "Having the transfers was vital for our team and I think we'll see their value even more in the years to come. All of these players learned so much by being a part of this squad and they will become even better for it."

Of course, Erwin and his staff aren't the only ones who looked into a crystal ball and saw a positive outlook for the Golden Knights.

"Every team we played this year came up to us after the game and said that our future was very bright," said Erwin. "For us, we want to make the future about right now."