The Men's Soccer Pitch: Life on the Road Pays Dividends

Sept. 16, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - No one said taking a team with 18 freshmen on the road for the first five games of the season would be easy, but head UCF men's soccer coach Bryan Cunningham was not looking for easy. With one of the most challenging schedules in the country to start the season, Cunningham wanted to ensure his team was prepared when Conference USA play began, and with the Knights set for their home opener Saturday against Memphis, the coach believes it was mission accomplished.

"The most important thing we gained from the start of the season was experience," Cunningham said. "Learning how to play against big-time teams away from home can only help us as we dive into our challenging C-USA schedule. We also got some exposure to some teams that are not in our region that we would not normally see which is important for both improving and getting our program attention on the national scale."

UCF (2-3-0) opened the season at the Ohio State Bert and Iris Wolstein Classic in Columbus, Ohio. While the Knights left that tournament with a 0-2-0 record, they led the host Buckeyes, at the time ranked ninth nationally, 1-0 with less than two minutes to play before losing in double overtime. Despite the loss, the squad had confidence they could play with anyone in the country.

After notching their first win 1-0 at Stetson, the Knights traveled to Norfolk, Va., this past weekend for two more challenging contests at the ODU STIHL Soccer Classic. UCF opened the tourney by falling to William & Mary 3-1, but bounced back to defeat the host Old Dominion 1-0 on Sunday.

"One thing we have relied on heavily in the past three weeks is leadership from our seniors," Cunningham said. "Bryan Collier (Fayetteville, Ga.) has been committed to organizing us on the field, Ryan Roushandel (Atlanta, Ga.) has been battling injuries but has been making positive contributions on and off the field, and Chris Andaur (Naples, Fla.) has accepted roles in different positions from game-to-game. These guys have been tremendous leaders for our young players to learn from."

With the season-opening stretch of games behind them, the Knights are excited for their home opener Saturday night at 7 p.m.

"The players are excited to play here against a great Memphis team in opening conference play," Cunningham said. "We have enjoyed our time on the road, but we are certainly happy to be playing in front of the home crowd Saturday night."

Regionally ranked: People have taken notice of the Knights' tough early schedule and strong playas UCF jumped into the NSCAA/adidas regional rankings this week. UCF is currently ranked ninth in the South Region.

Honor Roll: Strong individual performances have garnered accolades for some of the Knights players this season. A list of the honors and awards received thus far are below:
? C-USA Player of the Week: Sean Johnson (Sept. 8)
? SoccerFla.com Player of the Week: Sean Johnson (Sept. 8), Kevan George (Sept. 15)
? Ohio State Bert and Iris All-Tournament team: Sean Johnson, Bryan Collier
? ODU STIHL Soccer Classic All-Tournament team: Kevan George, Bryan Collier, Yaron Bacher

Statistically Speaking: Sean Johnson (Lilburn, Ga.) is currently ranked eighth in the country in saves with 33. The sophomore goalkeeper is also first in saves, second in save percentage (.825), and third in shutouts (2) in Conference USA.

For the latest news on the Knights, log on to UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.