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UConn men’s soccer suffers late loss to Columbia, 3-2

The Huskies had fought back to equalize twice in the game.

UConn lost to Columbia 3-2 on a last minute goal
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Ivy League schools appear to be kryptonite for the this UConn men’s soccer team. The Huskies fell to Columbia tonight 3-2, falling to 3-4 on the season. Jordan Hall and Robin Lapert scored for UConn, who twice equalized but couldn’t come up with a third.

*First Half*

Both teams were feeling each other out to start, with both teams content to knock the ball around in safe spaces. There was some pretty ball movement from the Lions, but UConn snuffed out any real chances. As a result, a lot of the early play was in the middle of the park.

Columbia struck first in the 15th minute on its first real chance. Jake Dengler committed a hard challenge just outside UConn’s box, and John Denis stepped up and rifled a beauty of a free kick past Gigi Catalano.

Facing another deficit, UConn had some opportunities on the counter, but was unable to collectively build up chances on its own. Turnovers often came from impatience after decent spells of possession, when the attack wasn’t able to progress. That final pass to unlock defenses was just never there.

That is, until UConn equalized in the 25th minute, from who else but Hall, logging his eighth goal of the year, this time with his head. Josh Morgan, starting at right back, served in a pretty floating ball in for his first assist on the year. The Huskies looked reborn after the goal, with quick ball movement and purposeful passing. For the rest of the half, it was the best UConn looked in the last few weeks, and a reminder of what the team’s final product could look like.

*Second Half*

The spells of crisp play continued to start the second half. Moussa Wade and Dayonn Harris combined in the 57th minute, but the finish trickled just wide. Both teams had good spells of possession, and game flow was good on both ends. UConn’s pacing was so so much better, and that led to a lot of short-short-long passes that put the right players in dangerous spots.

But just when things looked ready to break UConn’s way, Columbia took the lead again. A quick low punt from the Lion keeper put striker Sebastian Gunbeyi on the run. Cole Venner clipped him just just outside the box, and UConn was lucky to avoid a penalty. The ensuing commotion over the placement of the free kick resulted in a quick Columbia restart squared across the box. UConn was caught sleeping, and found themselves down again in the 64th minute.

Things started getting precarious for the Huskies, but Hall was taken down in the middle of the park in the 80th minute. A Dayonn Harris ball found Robin Lapert, whose header caught the Columbia keeper in no mans land. That was Lapert’s first goal on the year, and Harris’ seventh assist.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Just when it looked like the game was headed to overtime, Columbia struck again. Some patient wing play from Gunbeyi yielded a cross that Denis was able to head home past Catalano. A furious seven minutes resulted in lots of UConn chances, but no equalizer.

It was an absolute dagger of a game. UConn looked ready to turn the corner for prolonged spells, but were done away by a few singular mental lapses on set pieces. An at-large NCAA bid is slipping away, and the team will have some serious soul-searching to do before conference play.

But first, some perspective. This is still a relatively new team around tri-captains Harris, sophomore Felix Metzler, and Lapert. Transfers and freshman take time to integrate and gel, and for UConn, it just happens to be taking longer than expected. And as the announcers noted, there are about five or six spots in the lineup that are still up for grabs. Head coach Ray Reid is still looking for the right combinations, but there were times today where the final product looked close.

Harris needs help, that much is certain. He’s an absolute certainty to beat his first man, but teams have scouted him well and keep two or three defenders nearby, so his impact is minimized. Another 1v1 or field-stretching threat on the field doesn’t let that happen, and opens things up for Harris to cook.

UConn will look to get back on track next Friday, Sept. 27, in the first conference game of the season vs. South Florida.