ORLANDO – A sunshine state showdown between top 15 in-state rivals at the UCF Soccer Complex more than delivered on the hype leading up to kickoff.
Hours after the Knights were bestowed the second-highest ranking in program history at No. 6 in the nation by the United Soccer Coaches’ week two poll, UCF saw significant milestones from both Juanvi Muñoz and Lucca Dourado, but the sixth-ranked Knights were unable to stave off a late rally by No. 11 Florida International, playing to a 2-2 draw Tuesday night.
The Knights came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, moving the ball forward and keeping possession of the ball. Midfielder Robbie Soronellas led the team in the center of the pitch, making tackles and pushing the ball forward finding forward Emmanuel Bam on the right wing. After some elusive dribbling from Bam, the sophomore would beat the Panthers defender to the by-line to whip a cross into the opponent 18-yard box, finding the waiting feet of Lucca Dourado.
The veteran forward let loose a quick strike that sailed past FIU netminder Tyler Hogan, breaking the ice with the match’s first score and recording the 30th goal of his four-year collegiate career. With his historic tally, Dourado became the seventh Knight in program history to reach the 30-goal benchmark.
During the better part of the first half and beginning of the second half, it was a battle for the midfield and possession. In a high-intensity game, the shots were flying at Muñoz. Twenty-four shots, 11 of which were on target and nine led to saves, marking a new single-game career-high for the sophomore goalkeeper.
The contest’s intensity heightened after the 70th minute, beginning with a near-miss by freshman Saku Heiskanen that punctuated a quick counterattack. The midfielder rang a shot attempt off the left goalpost in the 65th minute, but later aided in awarding the team with a free kick on the strength of a drawn FIU foul.
Redshirt-senior Beto Ydrach took full advantage of the Knights’ late opportunity, threading the needle over the wall of defenders off the free kick and into the lower left corner to double UCF's advantage.
The Panthers would turn up the pressure on the ensuing kickoff and earn a free kick in which defender Skraep Kasper would score on a header, halving the Knights’ 2-0 lead. Francesco Renzi would take care of the rest for FIU in the 85th minute, tying the match at two goals apiece, which would prove to be the contest’s final score as the Knights’ finished in a regular-season draw for the first time since Oct. 6, 2019.
“I think fatigue started to set in a little bit,” Ydrach said. “They started dumping balls into the box and they're a big team to deal with, so we have to tighten the screws a little bit on set pieces and not let those little moments get to this.”
“Obviously, they are a good team, and they are in 11th position in the country in the rankings,” Muñoz added. “It is like a derby. Everyone wants to be the best in Florida and obviously, UCF is a good team to beat. We competed a lot. It was not easy for them.”
“We will analyze the game [starting tomorrow], so the message to the players is after you watch video, after you reflect on what just happened, because the game is so emotional,” said head coach Scott Calabrese. “You know what is it that you are going to communicate to the players after the game is what happened. Great game, incredible game, two incredibly good teams in my opinion, and a crazy end to it.
“I think it's a lot harder when you try to see the game out in the last 10 minutes by giving the ball to your opponent and letting them attack you, and that is what happened,” Calabrese continued. “We were not able to keep possession to build up and play in their half and that is something that we have to get better at.”
The Knights will return to action Saturday evening against Brown in the penultimate match of UCF’s five-game homestand. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. from the UCF Soccer Complex.