As they’ve done all year, the UConn men’s soccer team stayed resilient and showed a flair for the dramatic, beating Rhode Island 4-3 in overtime in a thrilling first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies fought back from a 3-1 deficit, with freshman Ibrahima Diop bagging a hat-trick—all after the 75th minute—including the extra-time winner with one minute left in the first overtime. It was a high-strung, exciting affair, shots practically even (16-15 URI), and back-and-forth action from both sides. UConn now gets No. 2 Indiana in the second round.
The Huskies started the game off strong in possession, looking sharp and dangerous knocking the ball around, playing out of tight spaces and switching the point of attack. This solid start was rewarded off a corner kick in the 33rd minute, where redshirt junior Dayonn Harris found Abdou Mbacke Thiam for a header. It was Mbacke Thiam’s 15th of the season, and 46th of his career.
Rhode Island, which was dangerous on the counter all game, woke up after that. Less than four minutes later in the 37th minute, a Rams set piece from the corner found Tyler Dickson, who knotted the game at 1 apiece.
Two minutes later, Dickson gave the Rams the lead, once more off a set piece, this time a corner. A collision involving goalkeeper Gianluca Catalano left the freshman, in his fifth start, shaken but able to keep playing. For most of the first half, UConn was able to beat its first defender, but Rhode Island’s quick-stepping and high-positioned backline resulted in a lot of buildup but no final product.
Things went from bad to worse for the Huskies in the 52nd minute. Mbacke Thiam couldn’t corral a dipping cross into the box, and a quickly restarted counter from Rhode Island’s keeper put the Rams on the counter.
Streaking down the flank, Rhode Island squared the ball to the middle, where it was knocked home by Chae Brangman. It was miscommunication in tracking the man from both center backs, a problem that plagued the Huskies for the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
Facing a steep 3-1 hole, UConn was still solid in possession and generated some ideas, but the final ball was always lacking. Well-placed crosses were met with wild shots, or simple one-two buildups were a step late. All good ideas, but it seemed UConn didn’t have an answer for Rhode Island’s organized defense.
It turns out they did. From about the 70th minute on, UConn started playing much more direct. Paced by long balls from the backline, the Huskies began to play into space more, taking advantage of the attacking speed up front.
In the 75th minute, a ball from sophomore Robin Lapert found a streaking Mbacke Thiam just outside the box. A well-struck ball was parried by the keeper, but it fell to redshirt sophomore Cole Venner. After beating his man, he slotted a ball across to the middle that was tapped in by Diop. It was one down, two to go.
From there on out, it was the Ibrahima Diop show. Fellow freshman Felix Metzler played a beautifully weighted ball that put Diop into space in the 79th minute, where he deftly used the outside of his foot to slot it home. With the game tied up and all the momentum swinging toward UConn, a goal before overtime seemed coming, but loose touches in front of the goal robbed the Huskies of any real scoring opportunities.
Overtime started the same way regulation ended; dangerous chances from both sides. The Rams were a threat with their 1v1 attacking ability, and on numerous occasions found themselves in UConn’s box.
However, it would be Diop once more to come to the rescue in the 98th minute, as a long cross from Mbacke Thiam found the freshman’s head, who knocked it home. The win happened to be Ray Reid’s 299th victory at UConn.
Here’s the post-game reaction:
The Huskies survive and advance, in dramatic fashion. Up next are the mighty Hoosiers of Indiana, who UConn lost a close match to earlier this year, 1-0.