ORLANDO, Fla. – The No. 20 UCF men's soccer team advanced to its fourth straight American Athletic Conference Championship late on Thursday night as the Knights edged SMU 4-3 in penalty kicks after a 1-1 score couldn't decide the match over 110 minutes. Yannik Oettl earned a career high nine saves on the night and kept the Black and Gold in contention for the entirety of the match.
"I've never seen a goalkeeper perform at that level," said head coach Scott Calabrese. "It was an incredible performance from him. I was a goalkeeper many years ago, I coached goalkeepers, went to Final Fours, won a National Championship, won an ACC Championship, had All-American goalkeepers; I cannot recall another performance at that level. It was phenomenal and it was the most important factor in us winning that game."
For the last three seasons, it has been the UCF and SMU meeting in The American title match. Only one team could advance to the final this season, as the top seeded Knights and fourth-seeded Mustangs met for their first semifinal match in the conference's history. The Black and Gold had been edged by SMU in three straight American finals and were able to exercise the demon that was the Mustangs and beat their rival for the first time in conference tournament play.
SMU seized control of the match early, but Oettl was remarkable in between the posts, making four saves on 11 shot attempts in the first frame. The Mustangs out shot the Knights 11-4 and had a 3-0 edge in corner kicks. UCF looked a bit sharper after the break as shot attempts were even at 3-3 25 minutes into the second half.
The Black and Gold found the scoreboard in the 74th minute as Andrew Lizyness fed a ball up the wing to Gino Vivi who had running room up the sideline. After continuing forward, Vivi crossed the ball in for Lucca Dourado who just had to tap it home. The goal was Dourado's second goal of the season, both of them coming against the Mustangs. The helper bumps Vivi to the top of the team leaderboard in points this season with 11, scoring four goals and tallying assists.
SMU found an answer four minutes and 17 seconds later as a Knight player was whistled for fouling a Mustang in the box. Gabriel Costa lined up from the spot and cashed in on the opportunity, tying the match at 1-1. That was the first time since Oct. 6, 2019 that UCF had allowed a goal on a PK, and it was SMU who scored it when the two faced off in Dallas last season in a 3-3 draw.
At the end of regulation, SMU led the shot total by a count of 18-10. Oettl had turned aside six shots, but little did he know that only two thirds of his night's work was behind him.
Oettl got involved right away in overtime as the Mustangs crossed a dangerous ball into the box that sent Oettl diving to punch it away just 25 seconds in.
Oettl had to make two incredible saves in double overtime to keep the match level. By the end of the second extra period, Oettl had made nine saves, setting a new in-match high for himself. The Knights' lone shot attempt of the two overtime segments came in the 105th minute as Anderson Rosa tried to curl one in on a free kick from 25 yards away.
102' | THIS MAN IS A BRICK WALL!— UCF Men's Soccer (@UCF_MSoccer) April 16, 2021
We're still level on double OT pic.twitter.com/8vJGzRU2dw
No goal was found before the clock showed 110 minutes, sending the match to penalty kicks. At the end of the overtime periods, SMU had outshot the Knights 26-11 and had a 9-3 edge in corners.
"We were not our usual selves in terms of aggression, the desire to get on the ball, the confidence to pass the ball and possess the ball," said Calabrese. "For whatever reason, tonight was a bit of a nervous performance."
Prior to this match, the Knights were 0-2 when going to PKs. The last time UCF went to PKs was against SMU in the 2018 conference tournament final where the Mustangs prevailed 5-4.
SMU was first to shoot in the penalty kick segment and missed over the bar. UCF took the 1-0 edge with a Mauricio Villalobos goal. The Mustangs' Brandon Terwege netted one in the second round before Hattabiou Barry was stopped, leveling things at 1-1. Both SMU and UCF made their PKs in rounds three and four, setting up a decisive fifth frame. Gabriel Costa missed his PK high and wide right, setting up a match-winning scenario for the Black and Gold. Vivi got the job done and the celebration was on as UCF had earned their fourth straight trip to The American title match.
We're not sure what's better. The Gino Vivi goal, or the celebration ??. pic.twitter.com/Vf7mm266sW— American MSoccer (@American_MSoc) April 16, 2021
"Gino absolutely smashed that ball," said Calabrese. "I thought we took several really brave PKs. When you're willing to put the ball up in the top corner where no goalkeeper can get it but that's also risky because that's more likely a spot where you're going to miss. Really impressive for Gino to step up and take that fifth kick."
The Knights go unbeaten against the Mustangs in 2020-21 after going 0-2-1 when facing them in 2019, including defeats in the conference tournament final and the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The two sides have met six times over the past two seasons and 10 times since 2017. The all-time tally moves to 8-6-7 in favor of SMU.
UCF will have a chance to earn their first American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship as they host Tulsa on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Admission to the mask is free with 50 percent fan capacity enforced along with face coverings for all in attendance.
FOLLOW THE KNIGHTS
Follow UCF Men's Soccer on social media on Facebook (/UCFMensSoccer), Twitter (@UCF_MSoccer) and Instagram (@UCF.MSoccer).
GET THE APP
Never miss any UCF Knights news from your favorite team by downloading the free UCF Knights app right to your iOS or Android phone. The app provides personalized information for men's and women's teams, scores, schedules, loyalty programs and even breaking news. Click here to download the app now.