The UConn men’s soccer team penchant for late-game heroics finally wore off. The No. 20 Huskies fell to the No. 9 University of South Florida 3-2 in the American Athletic Conference semifinals, giving up a golden goal with 12 seconds left in double overtime. The Huskies were paced by goals from sophomore Josh Burnett and senior tri-captain Abdou Mbacke Thiam.
The physical match between the two heavyweights started off slow, with both teams feeling each other out. UConn was content to knock it around among its back four, while UCF’s midfield was quick to step anytime the Huskies pressed forward.
UConn struck first in the 30th minute, when freshman Ibrahima Diop picked off an errant UCF pass. He one-touched it to fellow freshman Felix Metzler, who slotted a ball in to Burnett. The sophomore took a nice first touch in on goal and nutmegged the charging keeper.
The Huskies doubled their lead in the 43rd minute. Dayonn Harris took a ball down the right flank, and after some shifty play, fired a ball into UCF’s box. The Knights’ clearance fell right to Mbacke Thiam, who hit a nice curling shot with his right foot to the far post. It was a nearly perfect first half for the Huskies with technical execution up front and stifling defense in the back.
Coach Ray Reid, at halftime: “We have to continue to be relentless. UCF is too dangerous of a team to let up.”
His words proved prophetic, as UCF slowly worked itself into the game. In the 48th minute, a UCF corner sent the ball to the left wing, where star forward Cal Jennings collected it and fired it back into the box, where Yoni Sorokin headed a near-post ball past Huskies’ goalie Gianluca Catalano. UConn had a chance to extend the lead a few minutes after, but a streaking Josh Burnett fired a ball into the side netting, instead of squaring it to either Mbacke Thiam or Diop.
UCF evened things up in the 82nd minute. The Knights found Jennings 1v1 deep in the UConn box, a rarity for most of the game. UCF talisman did what he does best; turned and fired a quick left-footed strike into UConn’s goal. UConn had a chance to win it in the 86th minute, but Cole Vennner’s shot went just wide.
Regulation ended without any other fanfare, although UConn was more active in getting forward. Mbacke Thiam and Harris were dangerous at the start of the overtime, combining for a chance that sailed over the crossbar.
With both teams gassed, it appeared to be headed toward penalty kicks. Injuries and referee interventions were stopping the game every other five minutes, robbing the overtime of any flow for either team. With tired legs come late challenges, and such was the case in overtime, with six fouls and two cautions handed out.
With 12 seconds left, disaster struck. UConn gave up a silly foul in the left corner, when it would have been more apt to just play smart defense and let the clock run out. Instead, a well-placed UCF in-swinger landed right in UConn’s six yard box. Several Huskies rose to clear it, but through miscommunication and the ball’s movement, were unable to connect. This left Catalano frozen as the ball curved into the net, ending the game.
- Despite the blown lead, a hats off to UConn’s backline, who were under fire the entire game. UCF leads the country in shots on goal, yet each Husky defender had their moments of timely tackles, getting a foot in at the last minute and often sacrificing their body to keep UCF at bay. It wasn’t desperation defending either; UConn was right on the heels of every Knight buildup and chance.
- A special shoutout to senior tri-captain Jacob Hauser-Ramsey, who was tasked with containing Cal Jennings, the NCAA’s second-leading goal scorer. For most of the game, Hauser-Ramsey was right there with him, and it showed when Jennings had to drop back to get more of the ball instead of playing as a target.
- Senior Dylan Greenberg was equally commendable, both for his tough challenges as well as his willingness to join the attack. His motor never stopped, and was a critical rallying cry for the squad when things hit the fan.
- Abdou Mbacke Thiam’s goal was his 14th on the year, and 45th for his UConn career. That’s now good for fifth all-time at UConn.
- UConn falls to 11-5-2 as it now waits to see if it is awarded an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The selection show will occur on Monday, Nov. 12.