UCF – Four Star Recruiting Class – The Knights move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference in 2013. UCF will be undergoing somewhat of a makeover in 2013. Five starters return from the 2012 squad that was 8-7-3 overall with a 5-3-0 mark in CSUA play which means that Bryan Cunningham has a core upon which to build but this is a team that will have a lot of new faces on the pitch in key roles in 2013.
Cunningham will welcome a fourteen member recruiting class that includes several gems who will have a splendid opportunity to make an immediate impact on the team as well as others with the potential to grow into key contributors over time. Cunningham stated, "We feel like this group will bring us a long way toward our goal of winning an American Athletic Conference title in the next few years." He added, "Our staff did a great job searching around the country finding players who fit our system and also fill the void of our seven seniors and three other players that we lost to the professional ranks."
The marquee player of the recruiting class looks to be defender Javier Clavijo from Weston, Florida who is an NSCAA Youth All-American and ranked by College Soccer News as among the top 150 recruits in the class of 2013. Junior transfer Soren Yuhaschek who was an NJCAA Second Team All-American out of Darton College and athletic freshman defender Joe Amico from Columbia, Missouri are among other defenders in the class who should be in the hunt for playing time. Leon Carby who is a junior transfer from High Point University, Fernando Laverde out of the FC Dallas Youth Academy and Dener dos Santos out of the Houston Dynamo Youth Academy are among the incoming midfielders who could make an immediate impact.
The UCF backline will have a different look in 2013 due to the loss of center backs Andrew Quintano and Ben Hunt due to graduation. Quintano was a 2012 All-CUSA First Team selection while Hunt was a 2012 All-CUSA Second Team member. Both were four year starters who played a lot of minutes for he Knights during their tenure in Orlando. Replacing an experienced center back is hard enough, replacing two the caliber of Quintano and Hunt will be a tall task.
On the offensive side of the ball the decision of All-CUSA First Team selection forward Deshorn Brown to sign a MLS Generation adidas contract and to take his game to the professional level leaves UCF searching for another go-to guy heading into the 2013 season. Brown, who played at UCF for only one season, led the Knights in scoring last year with thirteen goals and three assists. Offensive productivity is a question mark since returning players only accounted for seven of the twenty-nine goals the Knights scored last year and no returning player scored more than three times last year.
Since Brown has departed the building, the Knights will likely rely heavily on senior forward Omar Vallego (3g, 8a) to power the attack in 2013. Vallego transferred to UCF last year from Ohio State and was a 2012 All-CUSA Third Team member. He played his best soccer down the home stretch last year scoring three goals in the Knight's final five contests.
Sophomore attacking center midfielder Romario Williams (1g, 0a) will seek to build upon an impressive freshman season. Look for Williams, who started fourteen contests last year, to set the pace for UCF in 2013. He is a playmaker with the potential to be an impact player. Senior Stephen Lambert (3g, 1a,) who will likely assume the defensive midfielder role, returns with three years of starting experience on his resume. He is a capable all-around player who also will be expected to set the pace. Junior left winger Matthew Gaskins (0g, 1a) and sophomore center midfielder Mason Miller are among other returning midfielders who will seek to assume a greater role in 2013. Senior Gabriel Zapponi who saw limited action last year also looks to be in the mix in 2013.
Redshirt junior Anton Sealey who saw action in twelve contests last year is among returning defenders. No matter how you spin it the UCF backline will be loaded with inexperienced players in 2013.
Redshirt senior Sebastian Evers who has two years of starting experience under his belt returns in goal. Last year he had a 1.38 goals against average and recorded six shutouts. Evers will have the challenge of anchoring what will clearly be a young backline. The leadership, composure, and confidence that he exhibits will be vital to the Knights success. Redshirt freshman Zach Biggs from Weston, Florida also returns between the pipes.
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, South Florida, SMU, Temple, and UCF will compete in the American Athletic Conference in 2013. There is a lot of excitement at UCF surrounding the move to the AAC and all things considered it looks to be a good move for the program. The fact that UCF will be in the same conference as in-state rival South Florida is an added bonus.
UCF is reloading on both sides of the ball in 2013 so there are a lot of unanswered questions. Regardless, this is a program that will enter the AAC expecting to compete right away. The Knights may not begin the season with the overall strength of some of the frontrunners in the conference but this is a team that should steadily improve as the season progresses. Accordingly, it would be a mistake to count them out.
Joe Amico – Defender – Columbia, Missouri – Pike High School – Played for Sporting KC Academy. All-State as a sophomore and junior.
Elhadj Barry – Forward – Henrietta, New York – Greece Olympia High School – Scored five goals and contributed nine assists as a sophomore at Monroe Community College. NJCAA All-Region 3.
Leon Carby – Midfielder – West Hartford, Connecticut – Junior transfer from High Point University where he made twenty-three career starts. Member of the U.S. U-18 National Team. All-State.
Javier Clavijo – Defender – Weston, Florida – Cypress Bay High School – Ranked by CSN as the #126 player in the High School Class of 2013. NSCAA Youth All-America selection. Played for Weston FC.
Giovanni DiiMauro – Defender – Defender – Delray Beach, Florida – Boca Raton High School – South Florida Sun Sentinel Palm Beach County Player of the Year. Played for Team Boca.
Andre Diouf – Defender – Huntersville, North Carolina – Southlake Christian Academy – Played for North Meck Development Academy. All-State.
Dener dos Santos – Midfield – Brazil – Dulles High School – Played for Houston Dynamo Youth Academy. Center-midfielder.
Parker Dixon – Goalkeeper – Jacksonville, Florida – Fletcher High School – Played for Jacksonville United. Played for Orlando City Development Academy. Member of the Florida ODP team.
Phil Hicks – Defender – New Orleans, Louisiana – Jesuit High School – Played for the Chicago Fire Juniors. Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year. All-State selection.
Matt Laux – Defender – Boca Raton, Florida – Boca Raton High School – Played for Weston FC Development Academy. South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post First Team selections.
Fernando Laverde – Midfield – Dallas, Texas – Liberty High School – Played for FC Dallas Youth Academy. Member of U.S. U-17 National Team residency program.
Alex Marotta – Forward – Weston, Florida – Cypress Bay High School – South Florida Sun-Sentinel All-Broward First Team selection. Played for Weston FC Soccer Development Academy.
Soren Yuhaschek – Defender – Orlando, Florida – Freedom High School – Junior transfer from Darton College. NJCAA All-America Second Team selection.
Abdi Yusuf – Defender – Herndon, Virginia – Herndon High School – Played for DC United Youth Academy. Native of the Netherlands.