ORLANDO – The No. 14 UCF men's soccer team (United Soccer Coaches) couldn't have asked for a better start to its debut campaign in the Sun Belt this fall, and the squad will look to keep riding its early-season momentum in its fourth match of the year Tuesday evening against the visiting No. 7/23 Florida International Panthers (United Soccer Coaches/Top Drawer).
A balanced scoring attack and stout defensive play have paid dividends in aiding the Knights (3-0-0) to achieve their spotless start and top 15 ranking, as five different players have combined to tally UCF's first seven goals, including two with a pair of scores thus far. UCF on the other end has yielded just three goals on nine total shots on target in its first three matches.
The Knights in their last match also clinched their first second-half comeback of the season, and in doing so extended their season-opening win streak to three straight matches for the first time in the Scott Calabrese era. The last time UCF began a season with a 3-0-0 record or better came in 2011, when the Knights were unbeaten through seven contests with a 6-0-1 mark.
Midfielder Robbie Soronellas sparked the late rally with a goal in the 69th minute, his first score of the fall slate and the sixth of his career. His tally also ensured that he has found the back of the net at least once in four of his five collegiate seasons between UCF and North Florida.
As they had in the Knights' season-opener at then-No. 4/9 Clemson (Top Drawer/United Soccer Coaches), Emmanuel Bam and Saku Heiskanen continued the offensive momentum with their respective second goals of the season, helping to lift the Knights to a 3-1 victory after the team trailed at halftime for the first time in 2023.
The winning effort marked the Knights' first match with three or more scores in the second half since Oct. 10, 2021, against then-No. 6 Tulsa, and their first comeback win that saw at least three goals scored in a half since Sept. 15, 2018, against Stetson.
On the heels of UCF's third straight win, the Knights now rank among the leaders in the Sun Belt in a handful of statistical categories, including win percentage (1.000, T-1st), goals per game (2.33, T-3rd), total goals (7, T-3rd), shots per game (13.33, 3rd), shots on goal per game (6.00, 3rd), goal differential (+4, 4th), points per game (6.00, 4th), and total points (18, 4th).
Individually, Bam also claims a share of first not only in the conference, but also nationally with his two game-winning goals, and starting goalkeeper Juanvi Muñoz's goals-against average of 1.000 is good for a tie for seventh in the Sun Belt and 54th in the nation entering play Monday.
UCF is also on record watch for a pair of Knights, as Lucca Dourado is still in search of his 30th career goal. Currently with 29 on his collegiate resume, Dourado stands to become the seventh 30-goal scorer in program history.
Calabrese is also chasing the 150th win of his head coaching career, currently owning 148 entering the Knights' Tuesday matchup. With a win over the Panthers, Calabrese could eclipse the mark in UCF's Saturday match against Brown.
In Florida International, the team represents the Knights' second of four opponents on the schedule that have seen a top 10 ranking by the United Soccer Coaches poll this season, joining No. 2 Kentucky, No. 5 Marshall and then-No. 9 Clemson.
The team is also off to an unbeaten start, bringing a 2-0-1 record to Orlando with wins against (RV) Oregon State and Virginia Commonwealth. The Panthers represent a stingy defensive group as well, as the team has surrendered just one goal in its first three matches, coming in its season-opening 2-1 victory in Corvallis, Oregon.
Florida International largely has netminder Tyler Hogan to thank, who has played all by 9:28 of the team's total 270 minutes between the posts. The graduate student has posted a miniscule 0.35 goals-against average accompanied by a .929 save percentage in recording his 2-0-1 record, and has made 13 saves on 26 total shots faced.
Not unlike the Knights, the Panthers are offensively-balanced as well, as five different players have combined to score the team's first six goals this season. Junior forward Eduardo Mustre represents the team's leading scorer thus far in his collegiate debut season, with a pair of goals and one assist to his name.
The Córdoba, Mexico, native has made himself known as a dominant presence in front of the net through the team's first three matches, as he has attempted at least three shots in each, totaling six shots on goal in that span.
Kickoff for the Knights' Tuesday evening tilt is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the UCF Soccer Complex.
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