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UConn Men’s Soccer Wins Last-Second Thriller vs. Vermont, 3-2

The Huskies fought back from a one-goal deficit twice to earn the thrilling win.

UConn’s Goal Patrol, bench, and players mob Dayonn Harris after scoring the game-winning goal to beat Vermont, 3-2 last night
Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog

To honor the last season played at historic Morrone Stadium, UConn soccer has been highlighting its top 10 “Morrone Moments,” with the most recent one perhaps intentionally a mid-90’s tilt vs. the Vermont Catamounts. They might need to update that list now, after the UConn men’s soccer team beat Vermont Tuesday night 3-2 in a thrilling, last minute victory.

UConn moves to 10-2-2 on the year, 9-0-1 at Morrone Stadium, and is unbeaten in its last 10 games. It now has seven games where it has scored game-winners in the 75th minute or less. In their last four wins, those game-winners have all come after the 85th minute.

Head coach Ray Reid was very aware of the Huskies’ penchant for late-game heroics.

“We can’t continue to live this way, because it will blow up when it means the most to us. We’re trying as a coaching staff to fix it,” he said. “But on the other hand, they’re resilient. I’ll be positive now and say this is the toughest group of kids in 22 years at UConn. They’re playing with fire, and I don’t know if they’re mature enough to figure it out.”

He then shook his head, noting, “I’ve never had a team remotely able to do what they’ve done seven times. Abdou’s first three years, we didn’t do this nearly the amount we’ve done in just his last year now. Before, we’d go down a goal, and not score again. Now they gift teams a goal and we beat them 2-1.”

In a game with three lead changes, UConn got the last laugh once again in the 89th minute, after Dayonn Harris tapped home the winner in one of the wildest sequence of events ever witnessed at a soccer game.

Vermont struck first in the 11th minute and was generally all over UConn to start. The Catamounts, who have a roster that would make the United Nations proud with players from Colombia, Iceland, Germany, and the Republic of Congo, used their size to impose their will at their start.

UConn gathered itself in the wake of the quick deficit and was much better in possession for the rest of the first half. While actual chances were few and far between, the Huskies kept probing.

In the last seconds of the first half, senior tri-captain Dylan Greenberg whipped a rising ball into the box. Mbacke Thiam tried to flick it on and a scrum ensued, but UConn’s star managed to stab the ball to Blaise N’Gague, who slotted it home. It was found money for UConn, which was outshot in the first half 4-1. It was also N’Gague’s first goal of the season.

After the first half was peppered with on-and-off rain, it was a slick field for the second half. That resulted in lots of loose touches, and in response, late tackles and sliding challenges from both sides. And in response to that, things got chippy.

Vermont punched back in the 56th minute. A long ball that froze the right flank looking for an offside call was gathered by Geo Alves, who cut back on UConn’s touchline and fired a close-quarters bullet past goalkeeper Austin Aviza.

But the lead would only last eight minutes, after a Dayonn Harris cross went through the hands of the Vermont goalie and straight to Abdou Mbacke Thiam for a tap-in equalizer. That’s the fifth time the pair have linked up for points this season.

With the score knotted and the field slick, the game turned into a track meet, as both sides looked to sneak another in. A UConn counter-attack was met with a Vermont counter-attack and vice versa, with most chances snuffed out by loose touches or solid defense. Both sides were well-organized defensively and were excellent in covering breakdowns with sometimes simple clearances in the face of sloppy conditions.

In the 89th minute, with things appearing headed to overtime, Mbacke Thiam played a one-touch long half-volley, similar to his game-winning goal against Temple on Saturday. The ball took a bad skip in front of the Vermont goalkeeper, and smashed into the crossbar. The the ball then ricocheted off the Vermont goalie’s head and into open play. In came a streaking Dayonn Harris, who knocked it in.

UConn was not out of the woods yet though. Vermont pushed literally every single player forward for the final minute and a scrum occurred once again this time in UConn’s box. The Huskies struggled to clear the ball, but a sliding challenge from Robin Lapert went uncalled, and the game was over.

Fireworks then ensued, Dylan Greenberg went down hurt and Vermont assistant coaches chased after the referee, furious at the no-call. It wouldn’t matter; UConn had pulled off its seventh win in the 75th minute or less.

Notes

  • The unsung hero of the game was Blaise N’Gague. He looked more like Blaise Matuidi out there — a stifling defensive force yet one that could initiate attack. He played simple, but used his athleticism splendidly.
  • N’Gague on the team’s ability to bounce back: “We get energy after the goals. We keep pushing. Its tough to come back after, but you have to have energy. I don’t think its going to be like this if we go to the tournament, because there will be tougher teams who wont give us a chance to come back. We have to figure out something.”
  • Dayonn Harris, when asked about the importance of his game winner, deflected the achievement: “I wouldn’t put it too high, but Abdou did a great job again. I just made sure I had to follow it up and slot it in. It was a great team effort to come back and I’m proud of the guys for that.”
  • Aviza was not really at fault for the two goals. One was a well-placed header, the other was such a close hit that it was impossible for him to do anything. In addition, he made several solid plays; sniffing out a few loose breakaways and showing good hands by holding knuckling 18-yard attempt in the second half.
  • Reid warned that the chippiness of today would be a nice preview for Saturday’s clash against SMU: “Some of our guys were scared early. We didn’t want to get kicked. But wait until Saturday. SMU is 3-1-1 on the league and if they beat us and UCF loses, they win the league. It’s the biggest game of the year. It’s bigger than Indiana or Notre Dame. It sets up all our opportunities going forward. We haven’t been in a game this big since Abdou’s freshman year in the NCAA Tournament vs. Indiana.”
  • Earlier on Monday, Mbacke Thiam was named the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Week. After today’s goal and assist, he is now sixth in the UConn record books in goals with 43 and ninth all-time in points with 97.
  • Mbacke Thiam had to track back to get more service throughout the game, and even drifted off to the sidelines to get the ball more. When asked about it, he explained, “You have to adapt. they played three center backs, so it was tight in the middle. I went to the left to get more freedom, where I could just beat one guy.”
  • Prior to the game, new NCAA rankings were released. UConn ranks eighth in the latest TopDrawer poll, 20th in the United Soccer Coaches ranks, and 16th in RPI.

Next up on the Huskies’ schedule is the final home game of the season on Saturday, Oct. 27. vs. SMU. If UConn does not host the AAC Tournament or an NCAA Tournament game, it will also be the last regular season game played in Morrone Stadium.