TULSA, Okla. – The UCF men's soccer team punched its ticket to a fifth consecutive American Athletic Conference Championship final with a resounding 6-0 win over Memphis on Wednesday night.
"The performance tonight was in so many ways our best of the season," said head coach Scott Calabrese. "First, we showed up ready to work for each other. We moved the ball quickly and controlled the match with possession, and we defended very well. I love that we kept a clean sheet tonight; that's as big a deal as the six goals! This group loves to be together and we want our season to continue, and that's a big motivation for us in this final."
The second-seeded Knights got on the board early over the third-seeded Tigers, scoring in the fourth minute of play. Anderson Rosa played a beautiful ball in from near the center of the pitch, which was ever so slightly touched by Lucca Dourado, who settled the ball down just enough for a charging Rainer De Jesus who was able to take a quick touch and bury his first goal as a Knight past the charging Memphis keeper.
Gino Vivi got in on the action in the 25th minute with an incredible strike from beyond the 18-yard box. Vivi was far from done on the evening though.
Vivi helped in creating the team's next goal just a few minutes later, as he was on the receiving end of a ball into the box from UCF captain Mauricio Villalobos Vega. Vivi was able to cross it on the first touch to a charging Lucca Dourado, who tucked it home for his 13th goal of the season at the 28-minute mark. The 13 goals are good enough for the lead in The American and bumps Dourado into a tie of fifth place nationally, just two goals behind the country's goal scoring leader in UNC Greensboro's Theo Collomb.
The Knights didn't let their foot off the gas as they scored again 10 minutes later, this time via the foot of Nick Taylor. He was able to take the ball from the top of the 18, work his way around a defender and somehow slide the ball in through the keeper's legs to give the Knights a 4-0 lead.
As the halftime whistle sounded, the Knights had a 10-6 lead in shot attempts and trailed in corners 4-3. Wednesday's match was the second time this season that UCF has put up four goals in a half, with the other occurrence coming against FGCU on Sep. 11 when the Knights were up 4-1 at the break. The last time the Knights had at least a four-goal lead at halftime came back in 2018 when UCF went up 5-0 on Jacksonville and went on to win 8-1.
The Black and Gold struck again shortly after the second half began. UCF was charging hard at a loose ball in the box, but so was the Memphis keeper, who wiped out the Knight crashing for the ball, resulting in the referee pointing to the spot, indicating a penalty kick. The first penalty kick opportunity of the season went to Yanis Leerman, who blasted it home in the opposite direction of the diving Parker Lackland for his first career goal. He now has a career high five points on the season.
UCF made it an even half dozen in the goal column with a 59th minute goal from Vivi, who tallied his fourth career multi-goal game. He collected the ball inside the box, evading a few Memphis defenders before turning and firing one on goal that clipped a Tiger on the way through. The goal was the sixth of the season for Vivi and when paired with his other three points on the night, he now sits at 50 career points.
The Knights continued to pepper the Memphis net with shots. As the game clock expired, UCF had posted 11 second half shots to the Tigers' three, ending the evening with a 21-9 advantage, the most shot attempts the Knights have taken in a match this season.
UCF goalkeeper Bernardo Brandao earned his first career win and clean sheet in the victory, turning aside one Memphis shot on frame in the 32nd minute. The Knights back line helped in securing the team's third clean sheet of the season, holding the their opposition to a season low one shot on target. All three of UCF's goalkeepers have been involved in a shutout this season, with Tyler Lavigne and Matt Douglass earning a combined clean sheet in the team's 5-0 win over North Florida and Lavigne earning a solo blank on the scoreboard in UCF's 3-0 triumph over Temple.
The six goals scored brings UCF's goals per match to 2.63, which as it stands at the end of the match, is good enough to be ranked second in the nation. It is the eighth time in the last 12 matches that UCF has scored three goals or more. The Black and Gold have collected four or more goals in five contests on the campaign. The offensive explosion send the Knights into the record books, scoring the most goals in any American conference tournament match, and doubling down by scoring their most goals in a conference match since joining the league in 2013.
UCF will appear in its fifth straight American final, improving to 4-2-1 in semifinal matches. The Black and Gold are now 15-8-4 all-time against the Tigers, winning six of the last seven meetings and outscoring them 18-6. Wednesday was just the second time the Knights had faced Memphis in the postseason, the other occurrence being a 2-1 win in overtime in 2013, UCF's first year in the conference. The victory wasn't the first time the Knights had beat a team by a wide margin in the American's postseason tournament, blowing by Temple in the 2019 semifinals by a score of 5-0.
The Knights await their opponent in The American championship match. Fourth seeded SMU was supposed to play top seeded and second nationally ranked Tulsa at 8:30 p.m. ET, but weather in the area pushed the match to Thursday at 5 p.m. ET. With the delayed semifinal match, the final was also bumped back a day and will now be played on Sunday, Nov. 14 at 1 p.m. ET.
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