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USF opens regular season against rival

The Bulls get to play meaningful soccer at last.

After going 2-1 in preseason play, USF should be in for an early-season battle, coach George Kiefer said, when it hosts in-state rival UCF at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the USF soccer stadium.

“UCF is a very good team,” he said. “This game will be a challenge.”

While USF is coming off a record-setting season where it won the Big East tournament and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals, the Knights begin the 2009 campaign looking to build upon a 7-11-1 record from 2008.

Still, Kiefer said, records don’t mean anything, especially in a rivalry game.

“They’re talented and fast and play with an unorthodox style,” he said.

UCF had three more wins in 2008 than it did in 2007 and also won the program’s first Conference USA tournament match. Last year, the squad allowed 1.29 goals per game compared to the 2007 team that allowed 2.1.

UCF is led by sophomore Kevan George, who was the only freshman named to the C-USA All-Conference team last year. He scored a team-high four goals and added two assists.

The Knights lost starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who left after his sophomore season to play on the United States U-20 national team and to pursue a professional career. Sophomore Matt Urbano is the only goalkeeper who has game experience, playing 11 minutes last year.

The Bulls are in a much different situation in goal, as junior keeper Jeff Attinella returns with plenty of game experience. Attinella was named to the NSCAA All-Region Second Team and the Big East All-Tournament Team for his 58 saves and 10 shutouts in 19 starts.

Last year, a header from USF senior Kevon Neaves broke a scoreless tie in overtime to give the Bulls the win. The loss was one of six one-goal losses endured by the Knights in 2008.

“This is a great in-state game for us,” Kiefer said. “Our players are always excited to play against UCF.”