The 2019 UConn men’s soccer team continues to find new, creative ways to break hearts. The Huskies lost to No. 11 ranked UCF on Sunday, 2-1, giving up the game winner in the second minute of overtime after equalizing late in the second half. Loyola transfer Jake Dengler scored his first goal in a UConn jersey, while Louisville transfer Ziyad Fekri added his second assist on the season. UConn falls to 4-9-1 on the season.
UCF came into the game 8-1-2 and was ranked as high as No. 4 earlier in the year. They played to their ranking in the first half, dominating possession and outshooting UConn 6-1. And just when it looked like UConn would escape to the break without a deficit, a cross found UCF star Cal Jennings, who headed it past freshman goalie Marcus Peterkin with an excruciating four seconds left in the half — another mental lapse that cost UConn dearly.
It was an entirely different game the second half. The Huskies came out gangbusters, possessing the ball in greater sequences and creating chances left and right, thanks in part to a higher press up the field. Sophomore tri-captain Felix Metzler was the focal point in the middle, having eschewed his normal role as defensive center mid for a more attacking position. Head coach Ray Reid also moved his star creator Dayonn Harris around the field to get him in more creative spots. These two tactical changes, combined with inspired play from the likes of Cole Venner and Moussa Wade had UConn threatening to equalize.
The team was rewarded for its stellar play with a penalty in the 78th minute after Venner was taken down in the box. The call could have gone either way, but given the wet conditions — and UConn’s recent rotten luck — it felt overdue. Metzler stepped up to take it, but his instep finish to the right was blocked by the Knight keeper.
The Huskies would be vindicated on the next play though, as the ensuing corner taken by Fekri was slipped home by Dengler, a pretty linkup from the two transfer defenders. The game’s remaining 10 minutes came and went without a game-winner, sending the Huskies to overtime once more.
And once more, disaster struck early. Just under two minutes in, a failed clearance fell to Gino Vivi of UCF, who fired in a near-post rifle from outside the box. It was UConn’s third overtime loss this year, and the second time in the past 12 months that UCF stole a victory in free soccer. To twist the knife some more, all of UConn’s overtime losses have come within the first few minutes of extra time.
- Sophomore keeper Gianluca Catalano did not dress with an injury. Peterkin had four saves in his debut.
- Fellow freshman Moussa Wade had a breakout game of sorts, logging four shots and nearly his first goal off a cross in the second half. He clearly looks to be gaining his footing, and his development will be something to watch going forward.
- Can’t say enough about Fekri’s play. The staff at Louisville clearly coached the kid well, and it’s great to see him thrive in a new environment.
- Postseason play is far from a certainty at this point. The AAC tournament takes the top six teams, and UConn currently sits seventh at 1-3. So while Cincinnati — who UConn owns the head-to-head with — sits directly above, there is clearly work to be done in order for the Huskies to extend their season.
- This game was undoubtedly circled on calendars at the start of the season. UConn, UCF, and SMU were supposed to be right up there challenging for top seed in the AAC once again. Cal Jennings and Jordan Hall were supposed to (and did, for a little) go neck-and-neck for top scorer. But life hardly ever works out the way its supposed to, and instead UConn has been scrambling all season to find consistent form. However, the way the Huskies battled last night shows that they are talented enough to hang with the best on any given night, it’s just a matter of consistency.
- They’ll get their chance to finish the season strong at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26, when UConn heads to Philly to take on Temple.