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Five men’s soccer games not to miss

Friday, Aug. 31. 7:30 p.m. USF vs. UCF

The Knights named former assistant Bryan Cunningham to the head coach position this offseason after finishing with a record of 6-9-2 last year. Going into the summer, the Knights had a number of concerns.

Cunningham immediately addressed problems at center back, goal-keeper and forward, where he took on the arduous job of filling the void left by Zak Boggs, who is playing in a USF shirt this year.

The player he chose to fill the void left by Boggs is Matt Luzanaris, a freshman who has trained with the likes of the Newcastle United football club in England and U.S. youth national teams. His goal-scoring ability is something the Bulls back line will have to focus on as the two face off for bragging rights in this state rivalry.

The two teams haven’t played since August of 2005, when UCF defeated the Bulls 2-1 at USF soccer stadium in a preseason exhibition match. In their history, the two schools have played 25 times, with the Bulls winning the all-time series 18-3-4.

This year, when the Bulls host the Knights, will be the regular season opener for both teams. The first game may be somewhat sloppy as the teams attempt to start their seasons on the right foot. The intensity of play however, should not fail to excite, as it is an important three points for two teams facing difficult conference schedules.

Friday, Sept. 21. 7:30 USF vs. Connecticut

After finishing second in the Blue Division last season, the Huskies were disappointed. This year coach Ray Reid is entering his 11th season with a more experienced team that is hungry for success.

According Big East preseason polls, the Huskies are expected to win the Blue Division and have a good chance at securing a Big East championship title. They return nine starters, five of whom were part of UConn’s back-to-back Big East championship runs in 2004 and 2005.

The early-season trip to face off against USF and its coach, George Kiefer, a former assistant of Reid’s, will have the Huskies foaming at the mouth for a conference victory. It’s their first road game of the season and an opportunity for both teams to earn crucial points against a conference opponent.

For the Bulls, it’s the first conference game of the season, and an important one, as home victories are an essential piece to the championship puzzle. USF has played Connecticut three times in its history and has

never beaten it.

This year’s match-up should be intense and entertaining. The Huskies bring a potent and experienced offensive attack to face a stringent Bulls defense. USF’s counterattack will have to be sharp and effective for the Bulls to obtain all three points.

Friday, Oct. 12. 8 p.m. USF vs. Villanova

Last year Villanova finished last in the Red Division, as injuries plagued their season and they failed to qualify for the Big East championship because of a late-season losing streak.

This year they return all but one starter and hope to build on the experience of last year. After a productive summer, in which the team added depth at the forward position, the Wildcats are optimistic about the results this year’s team can produce.

Important for Villanova is the health of Danny DeMasters. A key component to the Wildcat attack, DeMasters was bothered by nagging injuries in 2006 after battling back from a torn ACL to play in 17 matches.

For the Bulls, it’s necessary that they get a home victory against a team they should beat. The game comes just after the halfway point in the season and will play a big role in the points race if the Bulls are going to be on top come early November.

Wednesday, Oct. 24. USF vs. Cincinnati

After winning the school’s first Big East title of any kind, last year’s Red Division champs are expected to finish fourth this year, behind USF, according to the preseason polls.

The Bearcats coaching staff had a busy summer bringing in six new recruits, two of whom are on the College Soccer News 100 Freshmen to Watch list. The team’s recruiting class was ranked No. 26 in the nation this offseason.

Last year the Bearcats had a good balance of physicality and discipline. Despite leading the league in fouls, they had the second fewest yellow cards in the conference. The style of this year’s squad is still somewhat ambiguous after a spring with mixed results.

The timing of the Cincinnati match couldn’t be better for the Bulls as they get an opportunity to take valuable points from a divisional rival near the end of regular season play.

Saturday, Nov. 3. USF vs. St. Johns

St. John’s begins the season as the favorite to win the Red Division title after winning its seventh Big East championship last season.

The Red Storm finished last season with a 14-6-2 record and were ranked No. 9 by the NSCAA. This year they’re No.17 in the nation, according to preseason polls.

St. John’s is the regular-season finale for the Bulls and present a daunting task ahead if three points is a must at the season’s end. One of the most successful programs in college soccer, St. John’s has made 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under coach Dave Masur, who has led the Red Storm to two national championship games and brought home one title during his tenure. St. John’s is the only program in the nation to appear in 10 straight NCAA tournament rounds of 16.

Aside from the UConn game, this will be the Bulls’ biggest challenge of the year. It’s also their final chance at walking away with points, not only against a divisional rival, but for the season­ – Points that could prove important for seeding in the Big East championship that begins just four days later.

For the Bulls to end on a strong note and have some momentum to carry into the tournament, they’ll have to stifle a potent St. John’s attack that returns five of last year’s top six scorers. Similar to the Connecticut game, the Bulls counterattack will have to be strong as they hope to expose a less-experienced Red Storm defensive line. Regardless of the outcome, this one promises to be a hard-fought physical match from start to finish.