Late-game heroics are starting to become a calling card of the UConn men’s soccer team. The Huskies beat Loyola Maryland Saturday night 3-2, scoring a goal deep into the second overtime.
UConn moves to 4-2 on the season, with all four victories coming at home. Star Abdou Mbacke Thiam secured the hat-trick in the 106th minute, bringing his tally to 36 goals in a storied UConn career. The Huskies outshot Loyola Maryland by a 14-10 margin, and all four of the team’s wins have come when they register 14 shots or more.
Mbacke Thiam, on his poaching abilities: “I never know where the ball is going to come from, but its my job to always be ready. I knew it was going to come to me eventually, I’d have my one chance, and get it done.”
But let’s backtrack first; it’s been a crazy week for the team. First, the Rhode Island game was rained out. Then, UConn was originally supposed to head out to Akron, Ohio for a tough road match against the Zips. Hurricane Florence intervened with the travel plans though, and adjustments needed to be made.
In came the Loyola Greyhounds at the last-minute, a well-regarded squad from the Patriot League. Loyola returned all of its players that nabbed points last year, a team that was the regular season Patriot League champs.
Head Coach Ray Reid, on the unsettling week:
“It was a heck of a week. Thank god for Stevie Nichols of Loyola. We were not sharp in the warm-up from the week off, and you can see it. But was great resiliency.”
The Greyhounds struck first in the 6th minute off a finish from Brian Saramago. Roughly 20 minutes later, UConn responded after a Dayonn Harris cross found Mbacke Thiam’s head.
In the 75th minute, it appeared the Huskies had broken through. An excellent counter initiated by a slicing ball from Harris resulted in a shot by Cole Venner. The parry bounced right to Mbacke Thiam just inside the box, who calmly placed it in the upper left corner with one deft touch.
The game appeared to be over. UConn became increasingly involved in the attack, and Loyola’s backline repeatedly got beat around the corner by UConn wingers. However, Gabriel Carlsson picked up a 50-50 ball in UConn box and curled a well-struck ball past goalkeeper Austin Aviza, stunning the crowd.
The game remained deadlocked through an uneventful overtime, until Dayonn Harris drew a foul on the left wing. After a quick restart and an ensuing throw-in, a Felix Metzler cross found senior captain Jacob Hauser-Ramsey, who headed the ball back across the box to Mbacke Thiam for the double-header finish. The Huskies win in a walk-off.
Reid credited Mbacke Thiam for rallying the troops after the stunning equalizer: “He rallied them after the first overtime. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and this guy is as good as they get. This guy is a winner in every sense of the word.”
- All four of the team’s victories this season have come from goals late in the second half. Lehigh’s winner came in the 83rd minute, Niagara in the 69th, Dartmouth in the 78th, and today’s in the 107th.
- With the hat-trick today, Mbacke Thiam vaults into the top 10 of UConn’s all-time goal scorers.
- Dayonn Harris is unguardable. He can do whatever he wants on the wing: Cut inside, beat the man around the corner, or create enough space to deliver dangerous service. While he’s tied for the team lead in assists with Metzler, he’s involved in virtually every attacking chance.
- Aviza got his second straight start, and appears to have the leg up on freshman Gianluca Catalano as the No. 1 goalkeeper.
- Cole Venner had only logged 176 minutes in the first five games, but played more than half of the game today and was heavily involved on the wing.
- Freshman Felix Metzler continues to flash, and was notably more involved in the buildup today. He picked up possession pretty far up the field for a center half, and seemed to be occupying the defensive center-mid role at times.
- Loyola had a quasi-breakaway in the late second half, but Munir Saleh ran it down beautifully.
- If there’s room for improvement in one area, it’s possession up the middle. There were several times the central areas of the park were screaming for someone to sit in, collect the ball, and move it away from pressure. More buildup there would give UConn’s speedy wings even more room to operate on the flanks.
UConn will take on local rivals Boston College next Tuesday, 7 p.m. at Morrone Stadium.