Lucky Seven


ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The Knights were doing all the little things correctly, but the results were not falling in their favor.
It was Sept. 30 and the Knights had just dropped their second-straight match by one goal on the road against the league's top two teams.
UCF, then 1-5-1, 0-2-0 The American, was a team that lacked confidence and was still trying to find its identity under first-year head coach Scott Calabrese. One goal still in front of them that pushed the team was the opportunity of continuing their season and making the four-team American Athletic Conference Championship.
The coaching staff knew that the team was better than their record indicated and believed that the results would come.
"All along, the players have had the right attitude and mentality," Coach Calabrese said. "The guys stayed with it. They believed that they were good enough and believed in each other."
UCF continued to work hard in making each training session better than the previous day. That workman-like attitude helped turn the tide.
"We became more serious in our preparations leading up to matches," junior defender Andreas Steineger said. "We got the train rolling and became more confident on the ball and defending."
After two matches were cancelled following a lightning delay and Hurricane Irma's effect on the Orlando community, the Knights were finally set to play their first home match on Oct. 4. 
Sophomore forward Cal Jennings emerged as an offensive threat following a five-point match in the 4-0 home victory over Stetson. Prior to that game, five of the first seven UCF goals were scored by The American Offensive Player of the Year, senior Matias Pyysalo.
"Cal has provided us with another offensive weapon," Pyysalo said. "He is very dynamic, fast on the wing and can cause trouble for our opponents."
UCF posted a 1-1 draw against Memphis and knocked off defending-champion Tulsa, 3-0. The three-game homestand provided confidence for the group, especially defensively.
"It all starts up front for us," Steineger said on the defensive mentality. "The front group is doing a good job of keeping the ball away from the opposing defenders. We are letting them do the work by pressuring and just picking up everything that is coming back at us."

At that point, UCF had four league points. With three matches remaining, the Knights knew they needed to win out.
Facing a raucous crowd of 5,100 at UConn, Jennings stunned the Huskies and quieted their fans with a goal three minutes into the match. Pyysalo stretched the Knights advantage to 2-0 early in the second half. UCF won 3-2 as Jennings delivered the game-winning goal with his second brace of the season.
The strength of the midfield helped jumpstart the offense during the four-match unbeaten streak. Freshmen Yoni Sorokin and Louis Perez and Pyysalo created a dynamic triangle that moved the ball quickly up field.
"The way that we try to play requires some very technical and intelligent players in the midfield," Coach Calabrese said. "They dictate our tempo and have to be really good to secure possession for us."
On senior day against Temple, the midfielders shined once again. Sorokin created a turnover and played a throughball that sent Pyysalo on a breakaway in the 50th minute of the 1-0 victory. It was a fitting end for Pyysalo, the Finnish Finisher, in potentially his last match at the UCF Soccer Complex.
The situation was clear for UCF entering its final match at Cincinnati – win and it was into the conference championship. The Knights jumped on the Bearcats early with a fifth-minute goal by Pyysalo, but the Bearcats answered 10 minutes later to knot it up.
Sophomore goalkeeper Matthew Rosenberg was stellar late in the second half to preserve the 1-1 draw and force the game into overtime.
"Matt has grown with every game that he has played in terms of confidence," Coach Calabrese said. "He has been a big part of us being able to secure results."
The Knights entered overtime fifth in the league standings after Temple beat USF, but that didn't last long. Jennings would be the hero for the Knights in the 94th minute. The Roswell, Ga., native collected the ball on right side of the top of the box and fired a laser that eluded a couple defenders and beat the keeper to the far post.
Those three points moved UCF into second place in the league standings. The runner-up finish was the first for the Knights since 2010 in Conference USA.
"The conference tournament is a big accomplishment for this team," Pyysalo said. "We worked hard during the season. We are going into games with confidence and have been getting results because of it."
UCF puts its seven-match unbeaten streak on the line later today at The American Championship. The first touch of the semifinal contest against UConn is set for 5:30 p.m. ET and will broadcast on the American Digital Network.