The UConn men’s soccer team got back to their winning ways Tuesday night. The Huskies advanced to the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament after beating the Temple Owls, 3-1. The Huskies were paced by a Temple own goal, as well as goals from redshirt junior Dayonn Harris and redshirt freshman Cole Venner.
As most tournament games go, the beginning was a tense affair, with both teams feeling each other out. UConn and Temple both showed good defensive shape, and were content to force errors. UConn had some early chances and got deep into the Owls’ penalty box a few times, but was unable to come up with anything.
Temple struck first, in the 24th minute. UConn’s defenders gave Belal Mohamed too much space, who fired a shot that took a wacky deflection off Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and over the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Gianluca Catalano. The unlucky goal caught UConn off guard after that, and the Huskies were lucky not to be down more. For the next 10 minutes, Temple was pressing and even hit the crossbar.
In the 39th minute though, UConn equalized. Senior tri-captain Dylan Greenberg picked off an errant pass, and combined up the left flank with Cole Venner. Venner’s cross ricocheted off a Temple defender and into the net.
At the half, head coach Ray Reid didn’t sound concerned.
“We just have to keep pressing, we’ll get it.”
And press they did.
UConn came out much more aggressive in the second half, using their pace to stretch Temple’s defensive shape. While that made for a sometimes sloppy, physical game with lots of loose challenges, it clearly wore the Owls down. In the 68th minute, Harris collected a ball on the right wing and after two touches, fired a rifle to the near post and past Temple’s 6-foot-9 goalkeeper. Abdou Mbacke Thiam was credited with the assist.
The Huskies put the game away shortly after in the 73rd minute after Venner collected a ball from Mbacke Thiam near the right corner of the box. Cutting inside on his left foot, Venner fired a low driven ball that caught Temple’s goalie wrong-footed and the ball slipped into the near post. From there, UConn was in cruise control, using their pace and defensive organization to hold a frantic Temple rally at bay.
- Going into this game, Temple had been in seven overtime games and had not lost by more than a goal all season. UConn is the first team to do that.
- Freshman goalie Gianluca Catalano got the nod today between the posts, his third start of the season over Austin Aviza, who had been the starter since the fourth game of the year.
- There were some extracurricular activities going on between freshman Felix Metzler and Temple player Belal Mohamed. In the first half, the two were jawing and Mohammed slapped Metzler, although Metzler was a tad dramatic in his reaction. The two resumed their feud when the game ended, with Temple star Lukas Fernandes joining the fracas. The latter had to be restrained by his teammates, and even verbally went at Reid, who shoo’d him away with a quick retort.
- Harris and Mbacke Thiam were very much in sync today. The two linked up early and often, with several nice-looking flicks, dummies, and feints. While the most dangerous of their chances was ruled off, they were a constant threat, and forced Temple to commit bodies to them at all times.
- Speaking of Mbacke Thiam, his two assists put him at 34 points for the season. UConn has scored 28 goals, and Mbacke Thiam has been involved in 21 of them. Of his 13 goals this year, six are game winners.
- Greenberg gets full marks for shutting down Temple’s best player, Fernandes. He didn't give him any light of day.
- Blaise N’Gague continues to do his best Blaise Matuidi impression. Very physical in challenges but that was necessary in a game like this with bodies hitting the floor often. When he got the ball, he picked his moments well, either with a quick pass, or a long marauding run.
- Reid postgame: “We like to do everything the hard way, but we’re very resilient. We’re fortunate to still be a part of this, and we’ll rest up and look forward to a test against a very tough team on Thursday.”
- Dayonn Harris, who along with some teammates, recently earned some AAC honors, was pleased with the attacking players’ movement: “We hadn’t been doing that much in recent games. We had a bit of a downfall against Tulsa, but our movement today was good.”
- Reid said before the game that the goal was to build a rhythm, and win the battle in the midfield. UConn certainly did that tonight. Next up for the Huskies is a showdown against the No. 9 UCF Knights. UConn tied UCF back on Oct. 12 on the same field. The game will be at 7 p.m. at UCF Soccer Complex in Orlando, Florida with the stream on the American Digital Network.