Men’s soccer season opener against UCF moved to Sunday at 7 p.m.
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JU men’s soccer head coach Mike Johnson said he wanted to see how his team responded to a challenging non-conference schedule before Atlantic Sun play begins. The Dolphins will get that early test on Sunday when it hosts nationally ranked UCF at the Ashley Sports Complex at 7 p.m.

The game, originally scheduled for Friday night, was moved to Sunday because of the threat of Hurricane Irene.

JU is coming off a 9-9-2 season and a spot in the conference tournament semifinals. Johnson’s group returns nine starters and 18 players from that squad. A veteran group will need to be in top form to face a UCF team that is ranked No. 19 in the Soccer America’s preseason poll after posting a 12-5-3 record and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

UCF was one of two Conference USA teams to be ranked in the top-25 with SMU coming in at No. 7. The Dolphins were voted fourth out of nine teams in the preseason A-Sun coaches’ poll.

“I know we’re excited about playing UCF at home and that’s going to be a good indicator to see how much we’ve grown as a program,” Johnson said.

To start the season with a win, the Dolphins will need to find answers for a Knights offense that is returning its top-five scorers. The quintet combined for 28 of UCF’s 41 total goals last year. To counter, the Dolphins will need to rely on a defense led by Tobias Hottner, who made the A-Sun preseason all-conference team.

The Dolphins will be looking to come out the gate stronger to avoid a repeat of the season opening 5-0 loss to the Knights last fall. That marked JU’s worse loss of the campaign.

JU went 1-0-1 in two exhibition games, including a 2-1 win over Big East-member USF. The Dolphins scored three goals total in the preseason and the offense will now face an even tougher challenge to try and score against a Knights defense that allowed just 17 goals in 20 games for a stellar .85 goals-against-average.

UCF returns goalie Shawn Doyle, who posted a .821 save percentage and a .82 GAA. JU is still looking for a permanent No. 1 goalie, though junior Zach Greenwald played every second of both exhibition games and allowed just two total goals while making four saves.

JU brings back six of its top-10 scorers from the previous season. Co-captains Predrag Ivanovic and Davide Faga are among the returners who will be expected to lead the midfielders.

Five freshmen also will look to bring a youth infusion to the lineup and fortify the team’s bench, allowing the plethora of returning players a chance to stay fresh throughout the year.

“With the recruiting class we brought in, we felt we hit every need area,” Johnson said. “That will allow us to have quality depth that will put us in a good position.”

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-- By Brian Bohl