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Mbacke Thiam’s Late Heroics Give UConn Men’s Soccer 2-1 Win

UConn survives a trap game heading into Friday’s big matchup in Orlando.

Abdou Mbacke Thiam (11) celebrates after scoring what turned out to be the winning goal late in the game.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Winning ugly is better than not winning at all. That’s just what the No. 20 UConn men’s soccer team did last night while hosting Sacred Heart, fighting back from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1.

UConn improves to 7-2-1 on the season thanks to goals from redshirt junior Dayonn Harris and senior tri-captain Abdou Mbacke Thiam. But it was a tense game full of drama.

Sacred Heart struck first in the 40th minute. Despite ceding most of possession, the Pioneers’ two Spanish forwards, Segundo Navarro and Oscar Curras, linked up from the wings down the middle, and Navarro put a well-placed ball past goalkeeper Austin Aviza to stun the Huskies.

It was a mostly listless half from UConn, which manufactured chances, but nothing truly dangerous. UConn sailed in four corners, mostly good deliveries that couldn’t find their mark. The frustration that was mounting reached a crescendo in the half’s waning seconds, when Mbacke Thiam was brought down in the box, with no whistle. It seemed like the right call, but the exasperated hands thrown up from several UConn players was emblematic of the half.

Head coach Ray Reid probably politely addressed the team at the half. In response, UConn was much more direct, and made an effort to get around the corners on the wings. It seems the team remembered it could beat players off the dribble, and looked to take space much more often. As UConn started to take players on more, it stretched a Pioneer defense.

That’s exactly how UConn equalized in the 65th minute. A great initiated counter by sophomore Blaise N’Gague sprang Mbacke Thiam into space. A quick feint with some speed, something that was deadly all game, put him on the break. Dayonn Harris made a smart run to the near post, which Mbacke Thiam picked up and slotted in at perfect weight. It was Harris’ third goal of the season and Mbacke Thiam’s third assist.

From then on, it was a jailbreak. All semblance of a Sacred Heart counter were gone, and UConn was serving in balls from both wings at will. Reid’s substitution of N’Gague, Munir Saleh, and Cole Venner proved especially potent, with Saleh and Harris linking up to wreck havoc on the right wing.

It seemed like UConn would have to head to overtime to finish the game off, but the Huskies’ talisman came through in the 88th minute. Freshman Felix Metzler, so solid the entire game, slipped a through ball to Mbacke Thiam into space. Mbacke Thiam deftly chipped a rushing keeper, and a ball that was slowly heading toward the net was buried home by a sliding Sacred Heart defender. It was Mbacke Thiam’s eighth goal of the season, and 39th for his career.

UConn once more walked away from a trap game unblemished. While Sacred Heart’s record may be 2-9-1 now, they brought their best effort to Storrs. While on one hand you can wring your hands at UConn’s inability to put away an inferior opponent, on the other hand you have to credit the team’s resiliency. For better or for worse, late game heroics are becoming a habit for the UConn men’s soccer team.


Notes

  • A host of Huskies earned weekly honors around the American. Jacob Hauser-Ramsey won his second-straight (and third overall) AAC Defensive Player of the Week award. Mbacke Thiam and Steffen Yeates earned AAC Honor Roll selections.
  • The UConn men’s soccer RPI ranks 13th in the country.
  • National outlets are starting to recognize UConn as well. The Huskies came into the game ranked 20th in the United Soccer Coaches poll, and a lofty 12th in a Top Drawer Soccer ranking. The former is a more metric and data-driven ranking, while the latter is a more “eye-test” evaluation.
  • Upcoming on the UConn men’s soccer schedule is a pivotal showdown Friday at 4 p.m. down in Orlando against Central Florida. The No. 19 (and No. 17 in Top Drawer Soccer) Knights are 8-2-1 on the season, and it will surely be a game to decide who sits atop the American. Given the significance of the tilt, it will be broadcast on ESPNU and can also be streamed on WatchESPN.