Cyle Larin stared off into space with his hands on his hips and lingered, maybe just a second or two longer than normal. The freshman phenom, so critical to UConn's success this season and hopefully many more to come, had just sent a second half free kick from the top of the box high and wide, a regular occurrence this chilly Friday night in central Virginia. And it was in that second or two longer that the emotions, frustrations, and eventual heartbreak of UConn's players, coaches, and fans could be found. Because on this night, of all nights, the Huskies just didn't have "it".
And at the end, for the 3rd year in a row, the Men's Soccer team was dropped in the Quarterfinals, losing 2-1 to the Virginia Floppers, sorry, Cavaliers.
Faced with the daunting task of defeating 3 top 10 teams on the road on their way to the College Cup, the Huskies fell just short in Charlottesville and will end the season thinking about what could have been. UVA clearly outplayed the Huskies throughout the match, controlling possession in the midfield under the leadership of Eric Bird and using its speed up the middle and along the wings to pester the UConn defensive line and consistently test UConn keeper Andre Blake. Blake was fantastic in goal, turning away some quality and point-blank chances by the Cavs, including a last minute shot on the goal line, to keep UConn in it.
The Huskies pounded the back of the net all night on offense. Unfortunately it was the net behind the field, and not the one between the posts. UConn managed just 3 shots on goal the entire match, including the second chance putback goal at the end of the first half by senior defenseman Kareem Morad. Shots from inside the box were hard to come by for the Huskies, as far too many long drives from outside the 18 sailed into the night and barely challenged the UVA keeper.
A physical match between the teams was officiated very poorly. Both teams and coaches consistently expressed their displeasure with the referee, leading to second half yellow cards for each of the benches. UConn was called for 21 fouls to the Cavs' 12. UVA's Darius Madison was a frequent benefactor of the quick whistle, as he spent more time lying on the field in writhing pain than he did running on it. A highly questionable call just outside the box set up a UVA free kick and then corner, which lead to the winning goal.
UConn's efforts at the equalizer were poor for the remainder of the second half, failing to create good scoring opportunities. The overlapping runs out of the backfield that were so critical to UConn's comeback against UCLA were almost non-existent. The point of attack for the Huskies was pushed way up the field, and UConn had to settle for low-percentage crosses from around midfield by the outside backs to the top of the box, which rarely caused a threat to the stout UVA defense.
The best opportunity for the Huskies came at the 64' mark when UConn was awarded a free kick at the top of the box, but Larin missed putting it on net and seemed to be willing the universe for a re-do or another chance that just wouldn't come. At least not on this night.
The Huskies have so much to be proud of, coming agonizingly close to another College Cup trip out of what could be considered a "Group of Death"-type draw. UConn also has a lot to look forward to. The Huskies will lose seniors at key positions but maintain a very strong core of future stars that will lead UConn next year with familiar goals on their mind: a College Cup and national championship.
Tonight was UVA's night. Next year is up for grabs.