ORLANDO – The No. 12 UCF men’s soccer team enjoyed a fast start and overcame a late deficit to force overtime, but in the end could not overcome the Vermont Catamounts in their NCAA Tournament opener, falling by a 3-2 final score in the second round at the UCF Soccer Complex to conclude its 2023 fall season.
“We’re all devasted that the season ended, and I feel like we have an incredible group,” said head coach Scott Calabrese. “We’re sad the season ended, but we’re so proud of this group, what they’ve done and who they are as people, as competitors.”
Coming off a two-week hiatus since the team’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament opener Nov. 5, the Knights couldn’t have asked for a better, or faster start.
Just 66 seconds into the match, UCF cashed in on its first scoring chance of the night. Sophomore transfer Clarence Awoudor gained control of the ball just outside the box after a missed clearing attempt by a Vermont defender and sent it the way of Yanis Belatrache near the endline.
A crossing attempt by Belatrache was blocked, but Awoudor was there to collect the rebound and send the ball across the box to the waiting feet of Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year Saku Heiskanen.
The Espoo, Finland, native wasted no time in depositing the ball into an empty net, giving UCF an early 1-0 lead just 1:06 into the evening affairs. The goal represented the fastest score in UCF's NCAA Tournament history dating back to the 2004 season, as well as the Knights’ quickest goal of the fall slate.
After Vermont, which was ranked No. 12 in the United Soccer Coaches’ preseason poll and as high as No. 16 in the organization’s Week 10 rankings Oct. 31, clawed back with two straight scores to take a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute, Awoudor again was the catalyst for the Knights’ second goal of the match.
Forward Lucca Dourado sent a long pass across the field and into the box for the sophomore, who remained collected in the face of the crashing Catamounts goaltender, Owen Jack. Awoudor squeaked the ball through Jack and into an empty goal, tying the match at two in the 77th minute.
The two teams played to a stalemate throughout the remainder of regulation and through the first 10-minute overtime period, and Vermont later managed what would prove the game-winner in the 105th minute of play.
“Vermont’s a very good opponent, we knew that coming in,” Calabrese continued. “For the most part, we dealt with it well. It’s one of those games, this is why we’re in the second round [of tournament play], it’s going to be a very close game. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong side of that.”
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