UConn men’s soccer kicked off their 2018 campaign with a pair of wins this weekend, earnings victories against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Friday and Niagara Purple Eagles Sunday.
First up was a dramatic win over Lehigh. In the 83rd minute, newcomer Felix Metzler out of Frankfurt, Germany fired home a direct kick from 19 yards out, scaling the wall and off the woodwork to break the deadlock. The Huskies held on for the final minutes to start the season off 1-0.
The Huskies had the Mountain Hawks under pressure the entire game and outshot Lehigh by 17-4 margin. UConn opened the scoring first in the 42nd minute with a header from Robin Lapert off an assist from Abdou Mbacke Thiam. Dylan Greenberg and Mbacke Thiam linked up for a short corner, and Mbacke Thiam’s cross found a streaking Lapert.
“I knew Abdou would cross for me, so I wanted to make the run in front of the defender to get to the ball,” Lapert said of the goal.
It was a chippy game throughout; 26 fouls were called and five yellow cards handed out, two to the Huskies. Lehigh drew level in the 77th minute after a penalty kick. The game appeared to be headed for a disappointing draw, until Metzler opened his account for the Huskies with the game winner.
Head coach Ray Reid after the match was proud of the fight his men showed.
“Over the years, we are not good on opening night.,” he noted. “I take the blame for that. We usually need more time. We’re a diverse group, so it takes a while to get the team on the same page. The answer from us tonight shows our resilience.”
Reid was impressed with Metzler’s goal, but was also glowing about his entire body of work.
“The goal was obviously big time, but he was even better the the rest of the game,” he said. “He was composed, he got out of tight areas, he switched the point of attack; he didn’t over dribble. He did so much off the ball.”
Two true freshman, Steffen Yeates and goalkeeper Gianluca Catalano, earned their first start for UConn. Two other newcomers, Metzler and Lapert, also earned their first nods. Plenty of chances were created, but the Huskies were unable to convert. Catalano had one shaky play on a miscommunication with a defender, but held his own in an impressive showing for a freshman goalkeeper.
Earlier today, UConn made sure not to fall victim to a trap game, earning a 1-0 victory against Niagara. The Purple Eagles of the MAAC were 2-14-2 last year, and parked the bus for most of the match, content to rely on counters that were easily snuffed out by UConn’s backline. UConn outshot Niagara 15-2, although only four were on goal.
The breakthrough came when Dayonn Harris, who flashed his dynamic speed most of the game, was brought down in the box in the 70th minute. Mbacke Thiam converted the penalty, his 31st goal as a Husky.
That forced Niagara to come out and play to try to equalize, but could not amount much of an attack. The one dicey chance from Niagara came on a long ball in the 85th minute, which goalkeeper Austin Aviza had to come out and claim. A collision ensued that left Aviza shaken up for a second, but a foul was called and the threat neutralized.
Nkosi Burgess, Josh Burnett, and Austin Aviza got their first starts of the season.
Freshman Steffen Yeates continues to acclimate himself well as the metronome in the middle, pulling the strings in the midfield. He and Burnett were both excellent today.
Dayonn Harris makes things happen with his speed and dynamism, but link-up play with Mbacke Thiam is the next step that needs to be taken.
Head coach Ray Reid on the resiliency of the team:
“It’s hard to play two games in three nights, but you have to do it. We were a little off connecting our passes. We were a bit fatigued. When you’re off and you miss some sitters, the goal gets a little smaller all of sudden. But I give them credit; they kept great patience and kept moving the ball in the second half. We showed great resilience, playing an opponent content for a draw.”
On the weekend overall:
“We’re playing pretty well. We have some good leadership right now. It’s early though. Classes start now, so we’ll see if guys are focused now at 2 in the afternoon. It was a plus of a weekend. All three goals were off restarts, which is a good and bad thing. We’ve got good depth. We go up a weight class next weekend. They have to bring their A game Friday vs. Notre Dame. It will be a lot different; they won’t be sitting back at us.”
Mbacke Thiam on facing a team that put 10 players behind the ball:
“It’s tough to play two games in three days, but both teams have to do it. They sat back, but we did a good job moving the ball.”
Jacob Hauser-Ramsey on his centre-back pairing with Lapert:
“I think it’s good for what me and Robin are doing. Today showed our patience. We did a good job staying focused.”
The Huskies will head to Bloomington, Indiana next Friday, for a showdown at 7 p.m. against 17th ranked Notre Dame. They then take on Indiana University, ranked third in the country, the following Sunday.