UConn men’s soccer did what they had to do. With a win or a tie with the SMU Mustangs, they would be making a trip south to the campus of USF for the American Athletic Conference Men’s Soccer tournament.
They got that point in a 1-1 draw. Simen Olafsen scored the Husky goal, while Scott Levene made three saves.
“Scott’s been great,” senior Kwame Awuah said. “You can always count on him, he’s always been a good goalkeeper.”
UConn struggled to put the ball on frame, taking 17 shots, only putting six of them on target. They allowed nine shots to SMU, four of which were on net.
The Huskies needed a win in the worst way. They had lost their last two and three of their last four matches.
In their stretch of games, UConn had plenty of chances but could not score goals. In this one, they scored early and allowed themselves to play with the lead.
In the 23rd minute, off of a long header, the Huskies converted.
Andrew Geres made the long throw that was batted down by the SMU defense. He stuck with the play and got a steal, then sent a cross in from the left side to a diving Olafsen. His header got past Michael Nelson just inside the far post to give UConn an early lead.
“It was a great goal,” head coach Ray Reid said. “Just a great goal all the way around.”
Senior defender Jake Nerwinski echoed his coach’s thoughts.
“It was a great play,” he said. “[Geres] stuck with it, won the ball, crossed it over, Simen [Olafsen] had a great header and it found the back of the net.”
The Huskies had multiple other chances, they had a lead in both shots, at 3-to-2, and corner kicks, 4-to-2.
The Huskies, however, could not find a second goal in the first half and went into the break with a 1-0 lead.
In the early stages of the second half, bad luck struck UConn. Abdou Mbacke Thiam got in behind the defense on a breakaway. His shot hit the left post, rolled all the way across the goal mouth and picked up by SMU.
The Mustangs went coast-to-coast on the counter-attack, with Garrett McLaughlin putting the ball in the net to tie the game. Eddie Munjoma was credited with the assist on the goal that tied the match in the 57th minute.
In the 75th minute, UConn escaped danger. The Mustangs got in behind the defense and Olafsen committed a foul just outside the 18-yard box in the center of the field. He was given a yellow card but the Huskies handled the ensuing free kick, blocking it with the wall, and they were up to the task on the corner kick that followed.
UConn held the shot advantage in the second half, as well. They led 7-to-4, but only one of those shots was on target, as was the case for the first half.
The first half of overtime passed without either team registering a goal. UConn had chances, getting two shots on goal, but could not push one through.
In the second half, the Huskies had a chance late, in the 118th minute, but could not push through. Mbacke Thiam had it behind the defense, but Nelson was up to the task and made the save when he needed to.
“We played with heart tonight,” Nerwinski said. “We worked our butts off and we did what we had to do to get the result.”
UConn (11-6-1, 3-3-1) will head to Tampa for the conference tournament. Their semifinal will be against Tulsa on Friday. Kickoff comes at 4:30 p.m.