COLUMBIA, S.C. – As the regular season winds down and postseason play approaches, the tests only increase in difficulty. The No. 2 UCF men’s soccer team passed a big one Sunday evening.
Despite losing their starting goalkeeper and playing a man down for the final 15 minutes and 38 seconds, the Knights persevered and outlasted the South Carolina Gamecocks by a 3-2 final score at Stone Stadium, representing the team’s fifth straight win.
"To go a man down and to see our lead cut to a single goal in a short period of time was very difficult," said head coach Scott Calabrese. "The team had to refocus and absorb a lot of pressure. It's another example of a difficult test for the players, and again they showed a lot of character to get the result."
The winning effort, marking the ninth of the season for UCF (9-1-2, 5-1-1 SBC), boosted the Knights’ point total to 16 and vaulted UCF into first place in the Sun Belt table and past the No. 1 Marshall Thundering Herd, which suffered its second straight loss just hours prior. With their fifth consecutive victory, the Knights own the longest active win streak in the Sun Belt.
UCF accomplished its latest victory on the strength of a pair of second-half goals by Lucca Dourado and Anderson Rosa, scores that built upon a 1-0 halftime advantage given to the squad by freshman Yanis Belatrache.
Belatrache, one match removed from netting the first goal of his collegiate career against Coastal Carolina Oct. 18, scored for the second time in as many games in the 39th minute Sunday evening, with help from Dourado.
The latter read an attempted Gamecocks (4-7-3, 2-3-2 SBC) pass perfectly and intercepted the ball before passing it on to Belatrache, who split a pair of defenders and tallied his second collegiate goal over South Carolina goalkeeper Ben Alexander.
Dourado found himself at the center of UCF’s second scoring play in the 65th minute, receiving a pass from Rosa directly in front of Alexander. The forward quickly re-directed the ball toward the right goalpost, beating an unprepared Alexander whose reaction time was too late to make a save.
His ninth goal of the season also clinched sole possession of seventh place on the UCF all-time points list with his 79th, passing Nik Robson’s (2009-11) career total of 77 after tying Robson with his assist on Belatrache’s score. Dourado is now just three points shy of tying Matias Pyysalo (82) for sixth place on the all-time list, and his 37 career goals are two shy of a share of fifth place on the UCF all-time goals scored list with Rony Francois (39, 1980-83).
Rosa added what became needed insurance just 83 seconds later, receiving a feed from Emmanuel Bam as he was almost out of bounds past the back line. In one fluid motion, Rosa turned and let loose a left-footed attempt that squeaked between Alexander and the left goalpost, giving the defender his second goal of the season and his first since his converted penalty kick attempt against Brown Sept. 9.
"The front four continue to improve their understanding of each other," Calabrese continued. "The more they look for each other, run for each other and try to combine, the more dangerous we become. We continue to work on it in training every day."
The challenges for the Knights only continued to grow in the moments after. Just over a minute after South Carolina netted its first goal of the night to pull a little closer in the 74th minute, goalkeeper Juanvi Muñoz emerged from the box in an attempt to thwart another Gamecocks scoring chance.
After appearing to make contact with South Carolina forward Adam Luckhurst, Muñoz was shown a red card by the referee and disqualified from the match for the remaining 15:38, leaving the Knights to play with 10 men for the remainder of the evening.
Redshirt freshman Luciano Natoli, after playing just the remaining 4:53 of UCF’s 5-0 win over Coastal Carolina in his collegiate debut Oct. 18, was tasked with seeing the Knights through in the aftermath. Though Natoli yielded a second Gamecocks tally in the 83rd minute on a free kick, he remained collected throughout his late appearance, making a crucial stop on a final-minute South Carolina crossing attempt in the box to secure the Knights’ ninth win of the fall slate.
The victorious effort gave UCF its third win in program history over the Gamecocks, and second straight after the 2019 Knights dispatched of South Carolina by a 2-0 score Sept. 22, en route to the team’s trip to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Following the Knights’ latest victory, UCF will look ahead to its penultimate match of the regular season, a road tilt against the Georgia State Panthers Friday evening. Kickoff for the contest is slated for 7 p.m. from the GSU Soccer Complex in Atlanta and will air live on ESPN+.
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