In coach Jeff Cook’s first season at Penn State, his team never lost a game by more than two goals.
However, in this year’s opener against No. 5 Stanford, his side was dominated in a 5-0 loss.
For a team with 13 new faces, it could have taken the loss with dismay or used it as motivation, taken the positives out of it and moved forward collectively as a whole.
They chose the latter.
After Penn State’s 4-1 win at Stony Brook, the Nittany Lions headed to Orlando for a battle with UCF. The two sides faced each other last season in last year’s home opener, but Penn State was defeated in double overtime, 2-1, in Jeff Cook’s Penn State coaching debut.
To be fair, UCF was one of the best in the AAC last year and finished the 2018 season with a 13-3-3 overall record.
The Knights had two top-10 matchups under their belt to start the season prior to their meeting with Penn State this season, including a win on the road at North Carolina.
Coming into the matchup, it was too early to tell what Penn State would amount to in a matchup like this, in which the Knights returned one of the best strikers in the country with Cal Jennings.
Jennings scored two for UCF on Friday, but this time around the Nittany Lions were able to come out of the match with a point against a top-15 team in the country on the road.
Before Penn State’s trip to Florida, Cook spoke about his side’s matchup with UCF and stated how UCF likes to dominate with the ball, but that his side would cause problems for them as well.
The way the match played out, Cook couldn’t have predicted the game anymore correctly. UCF dominated the game in possession, out shooting Penn State 19-7, but he didn’t stray from his side’s tactic. Penn State knew the team they were coming up against it didn’t try to play a style of soccer that wasn’t their identity.
Cook mentioned his team’s defensive efforts as “world class” and UCF as “one of the best teams in possession of the ball in the country.”
With knowing that UCF is one of the better possession teams in the country, Penn State played a more defensive style, maintaining their shape and capitalizing on the counter. To help facilitate those counter attacks, the Nittany Lions took their chances with applying heavy pressure in the middle of the field, which heavily disrupted UCF’s rhythm at times.
The Nittany Lions weren’t afraid to have a go at goal against one of the best goalkeepers in the country either. Christian Sload’s goal from nearly 40 yards out that chipped the keeper summarized Penn State’s game in entirety.
There may not have been as many chances for Penn State as there were for UCF, but the Nittany Lions rose to the occasion when it was presented to them.
The result against UCF is much more than what shows up in the box score. It’s a result that builds confidence for future matchups against the best of the Big Ten and one that builds form moving forward.
While the tie may only be a point in reality for Penn State, it’s a win in the books.