2020-21 Men's Soccer Season Preview

ORLANDO, Fla. – It has been 15 months, 434 days to be exact, since the UCF men's soccer team last competed in a meaningful match.  That streak ends tomorrow as the Knights take the pitch to begin their 46th campaign as they host Tulsa at 6 p.m. at the UCF Soccer Complex to open the 2020-21 season.

The 2019 season was the most successful season the Knights have experienced yet. It included the team's second consecutive regular season conference title and their second straight national seed in the NCAA Tournament. UCF was able to reach their first Sweet 16 in program history after defeating Missouri State in overtime by a count of 2-1. The Black and Gold finished with a 15-3-2 record and wrapped up the year as the No. 10 team in the country.

UCF will play a 10-match regular season schedule, playing a home-and-home schedule with the American Athletic Conference's five other teams. The conference looks a little different this season after UConn departed for the Big East and Cincinnati's program was shut down. The Knights will play on the next eight Saturday's followed by the next two Fridays, alternating home and away matches each week. All home matches start at 6 p.m. and are free to attend. More information on attendance policies can be found below.

The American has trimmed their postseason tournament from six teams in 2019 to four teams for the 2020-21 season. The No. 1 seed, which is determined by the regular season standings, will host the postseason tournament. The Black and Gold have hosted the past two seasons after winning back-to-back regular season titles.

Matches will be streamed on ESPN+ this season. Links to the stream as well as stats for the match can be found on the team's schedule page.

The Knights are returning some of college soccer's elite players. Every player that was slated to be a senior during the fall of 2020 is returning and ready to run it back with the Black and Gold in the spring. Louis Perez, UCF's second-highest scorer from last season, is one of the seniors poised to lead the Knights to a successful season. Yannik Oettl and Mauricio Villalobos will captain the Knights in 2020-21, the first time that head coach Scott Calabrese has dual captains during his tenure.

The roster is composed of 20 returners and eight newcomers. The senior class is significantly larger than last season, doubling from three to six this year. The Knights have six juniors, four sophomores and 12 freshmen to bring the total number of players to 28. Of the 12 rookies, seven are true freshmen setting foot on campus for the first time.

UCF will start the season with three starting spots open from last season, two on defense and one at the striker position. The Knights are looking to replace the productivity of Cal Jennings and Jonathan Dean, who both had tremendous seasons in the USL Championship's 2020 season. The Black and Gold have a talented group of strikers ready to take the next step. Jonas Schmalbach, Lucca Dourado and Jose Aldaco Jr. are among the group that will get a chance to play the nine for UCF this spring. A talented freshman class will play a big part in making up the Knights' back line.

The Knights finished the 2019 campaign as the tenth ranked team in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, which has yet to put out a spring edition of their rankings. UCF climbed as high as No. 5 in the poll during 2019, setting a new program record in doing so. The Knights enter the season ranked at No. 10 in Top Drawer Soccer's preseason poll and land at No. 7 in College Soccer New's rankings.

The Knights received numerous amounts of preseason awards to begin the 2020-21 campaign. Yoni Sorokin and Yanis Leerman have one of the highest honors as they were named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. The Hermann Trophy is the most prestigious award a college soccer player can be awarded. Jennings and Louis Perez were the two most recent players on the watch list; Jennings was named a semifinalist for the award twice in his career.

UCF had five players named to the Preseason-All Conference Team, leading the any other team in the American by at least three players. Sorokin, Leerman, Perez, Oettl and Gino Vivi were all unanimously selected as part of the preseason squad. Oettl received a unanimous nod as the Preseason Goalkeeper of the year as he looks to win the postseason version of the award for the third straight season. The American preseason honors wrapped up with the Knights being picked to finish second in the conference.

TopDrawer thinks highly of UCF's players, as they listed multiple Knights on their preseason Top-100 and Best XI teams. Leerman was named as the No. 10 college soccer player in Top-Drawer's preseason ranking, with Sorokin following him at No. 27 and Perez sitting at No. 66. Four UCF members ended the 2019 season in Top-Drawer's Top 100 with Jennings at No. 4, Sorokin at No. 15, Leerman at No. 21, and Perez at No. 77. Their Best XI team for the 2020-21 preseason placed Leerman on the First Team and Sorokin on the Third Team.

The UCF Soccer Complex will allow 25 percent of total fan capacity at home matches this season. No ticket is required for entry as matches are free to attend. Masks are required and must be worn while in the venue and on campus.

Follow UCF Men's Soccer on social media on Facebook (/UCFMensSoccer), Twitter (@UCF_MSoccer) and Instagram (@UCF.MSoccer).

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