MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The No. 24 UCF men's soccer team earned its third consecutive American Athletic Conference regular season championship with a 3-0 victory on the road against Memphis on Friday evening.
The Knights earn the top seed in The American's men's soccer championship tournament and the right to host the event. The road to earning the conference's automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament will go through Orlando beginning on April 15.
"It's absolutely incredible what this group has done," said head coach Scott Calabrese. "When you look at the rough start to the season and then how the team responded to that, it's a great feeling and I'm super proud of this group. They've shown such resilience and put in the work to get to this point right here where we get to host the playoffs since we're regular season champions."
UCF and Memphis' regular season finale was delayed by two and a half hours due to inclement weather in the area. What was supposed to be a 7 p.m. local time kick turned into a 9:30 start time, making it a 10:30 start on the east coast.
The Tigers had a big opportunity out of the gates once the match finally got going as they headed one just over the bar in the sixth minute.
UCF grabbed ahold of the momentum following that and rode the wave of confidence to score the opening goal of the match. Gino Vivi received a pass from Anderson Rosa that he was able to bury in the back of the net in the 25th minute for the 1-0 lead.
Memphis tried to find the equalizer late in the first half, firing off three shot attempts in the final thirteen minutes, two of which had to be steered away by Yannik Oettl. After 45 minutes, shot attempts were even at 4-4.
The Knights came out hungry for more goals in the second half. Seven minutes into the final frame, UCF put a ball in the net but was whistled for offside. Unphased, UCF struck minutes later as Jonas Schmalbach made his way to the left of the net, drawing the attention of multiple Memphis defenders including their goalkeeper. Schmalbach found a charging Hattabiou Barry who launched a left-footed rocket to the back of the net in the 56th minute. The goal was the fourth of the season for Barry, setting a new season high for him.
Right on queue! pic.twitter.com/4hnHCCgada— UCF Men's Soccer (@UCF_MSoccer) April 10, 2021
The Black and Gold kept the pressure on and cracked Memphis' defense once more as Vivi tallied his second goal of the match off a beautiful feed from Josiah Ramirez, who earned his first collegiate assist on the play. Ramirez sent Vivi in with a pass up the field to Vivi who cut from left to right in front of the goalkeeper to convert on the chance in the 64th minute to extend the lead to 3-0.
Josiah with the feed, Gino with the finish! pic.twitter.com/kTmomboIe8— UCF Men's Soccer (@UCF_MSoccer) April 10, 2021
The Tigers continued to pepper Oettl with shots in the second half but couldn't get one of their nine attempts by the senior netminder in the final 45. Oettl earned his fifth clean sheet of the season, facing a total of 13 shot attempts and making seven saves, one shy of tying his career high for the second time this season. He has stopped 38 of 42 shots at the conclusion of the regular season, good enough for a .905 save percentage, a category which he entered the evening ranked ninth in the NCAA.
UCF's journey to the top of The American table hasn't been easy. The Black and Gold started out 1-3, falling to South Florida at home and falling to Tulsa twice. The Knights rebounded and won their final six matches of the regular season, outscoring opponents 14-2 over that run on their way to a third straight regular season conference title. UCF has earned the right to host the postseason conference tournament as the top seed with the NCAA Tournament automatic qualifying spot lying at the end of that event.
The Knights move to 6-0 on the season when scoring the first goal and 5-0 when leading at the half. This was the first time that UCF had been outshot in a match as Memphis held a 13-8 advantage.
The Black and Gold are unbeaten in their last four matchups with the Tigers. Friday's 3-0 UCF victory snapped a trend of 13 consecutive meetings in which the match was decided by a goal or less.
UCF awaits their opponent in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals which will be either SMU or Temple. The semifinals will take place on April 15 with the championship being held on April 17.
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