ORLANDO, Fla. – The UCF men's soccer team rallied from down a goal at halftime to win 2-1 on the road at No. 24 SMU, its second straight victory over a top 25 opponent.
"I'm really proud of the guys and their performance tonight," said associate head coach Paul Souders. "The preparation for this match was really good. With Coach Calabrese being out, the players and the entire staff just responded. It was kind of immediate; they sensed that we had to prepare well. Our message going into tonight was to focus on tonight. We've had so many great games with SMU in the past and it's easy to get caught up in that, but we made it about tonight. Even though we were down 1-0 early, we were locked in and our performance grew and grew from there. Our energy was incredible. SMU is a tough place to play, but there was a confidence to the group tonight. It wasn't a matter of if but when we would score."
Saturday night's win was the first come from behind victory this season for the Black and Gold as they were 0-3-0 when trailing at halftime entering the match.
"The team was so good tonight," said head coach Scott Calabrese, who missed the team's match after a positive COVID-19 test this week. "It's a great result and a great performance against a top 25 team on the road. But I also love the way we played, we controlled the game with possession and were so dangerous going forward. We really limited SMU on the attack."
The match looked to be in UCF's favor from the start as they controlled possession for a majority of the first half and even generated a pair of shots on target in the first six minutes.
Despite the heavy pressure from the Knights, SMU found their lone goal of the match in the 26th minute. The Mustangs earned a corner kick from a ball that was tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Tyler Lavigne. The corner was whipped in and Lavigne was able to make a pair of saves, but ultimately couldn't make a third as SMU's Brandon Terwege gave his team a 1-0 lead.
UCF continued to pepper the Mustang goalkeeper, Cole Johnson, but were denied each time in the first half as he collected nine first half saves. The Knights held a 12-7 advantage in shot attempts and a 9-4 lead in shots on target at the end of the first 45 minutes. Even though they trailed, the momentum was on their side.
The Knights finally broke onto the scoreboard early in the second half as Caleb Franke scored from an incredible individual effort. After taking a dive from a push from behind, he got up, stole the ball from one SMU defender and then collecting another and running up pitch with the ball. He decided to pull up and shoot from roughly 25 yards away, tucking the ball right under the bar for the equalizer and his first goal as a Knight in the 59th minute.
UCF kept the pressure on and scored what went on to be the game-winning goal in the 70th minute. Anderson Rosa was crashing in toward the 18-yard box and dumped it off for Mauricio Villalobos Vega down near the end line. He took a few steps away from the line and turned and shot on a dime, curling one into the top right corner of the goal. The score was Villalobos' first of the season, meaning both Knights to score in the contest tallied their first goals of the 2021 campaign to triumph over SMU.
The Black and Gold improve to 7-4 with the victory and are 5-1 in American Athletic Conference play. They finished the evening with a 19-11 edge in shot attempts, including a 14-5 advantage in shots on goal. Gino Vivi had a career high nine shot attempts and seven shots on goal but was unable to tally any points to the scoresheet. Vivi alone nearly outshot SMU, just two shot attempts less than the entire Mustang team while landing two more on target. Lavigne made four saves in net for the Knights and improves to 6-1 with the team's victory.
The Knights handed SMU its first home loss of the season, spoiling its unbeaten 5-0-2 record in Dallas in the fall of 2021. The Black and Gold continue to thrive in the month of October as they are now 17-1-3 in the 10th month of the year since Calabrese's arrival in 2017.
UCF has come out on top in their previous four meetings with SMU, beating them twice during the 2020-21 regular season as well as advancing on penalty kicks in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals. One of college soccer's newest and most fierce rivalries has been pretty even throughout as SMU now holds a slim 8-7-7 lead in the all-time series. Nine of the last 11 meetings between the two sides have been decided by a goal or less.
With just four matches left on the regular season slate, the Knights are tied with Tulsa at the top of the American Athletic Conference table. SMU and Memphis trail the leaders by two matches, ending the weekend at 3-3 and nine points in conference play. Just behind them is South Florida with six points, followed by Temple who is winless in conference play.
The Knights will head to Philadelphia to face Temple next, who mathematically don't have a chance to be the first or second seed in The American's postseason tournament. The Owls will be hungry for their first conference win when the Black and Gold visit them on Oct. 22.
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