You know that Simpsons gif, where grandpa Simpson walks in, grabs his hat, and leaves?
Yeah, that one. That effectively summarizes the UConn men’s soccer team’s stint in the NCAA top 25 rankings this week. The Huskies took a tough loss to Farleigh Dickinson 2-1 on Friday night, in a game that many had marked on the calendar as a win.
Heading into the match 2-0 and fresh off a drubbing of local rival Rhode Island, UConn found themselves ranked No. 25 in the College Soccer News Poll, and No. 23 in the United Soccer Coaches poll. But that surely won’t be the case come next Monday after Friday’s disappointing result.
Jordan Hall picked up his sixth goal for the Huskies, while redshirt senior and tri-captain Dayonn Harris earned his fifth assist. UConn was without standout defender Felix Metzler, as he recovers from a foot injury. There’s no timetable for his return.
After 10 minutes of trying to find the ball, Harris finally sprung loose on the right. Flying by the first defender, he played his patented low early ball that trickled to the far post, where Hall was waiting to slide it home. Harris has now assisted on five of Hall’s six goals, and that connection is clearly firing on all cylinders.
It looked like the Huskies were ready to cruise, and this game would go as expected. But then the Knights responded. Sophomore Ibrahima Diop turned the ball over and promptly committed a foul about 35 yards from UConn’s goal in front of Reid. The free kick in found FDU forward Adrian Barajas about 14 yards out, whose power header caught Gianluca Catalano off guard. Diop then promptly found a seat next to Reid on the bench.
The Knights weren’t done though. They struck again five minutes later in the 30th minute and you could see UConn’s body language slump. For the rest of the half, the Huskies worked to regain their composure. Possession remained tilted in their favor, but concrete chances were few and far between.
The Huskies first started threatening in the 55th minute, when a free kick in the same spot as FDU’s first goal found junior tri-captain Robin Lapert’s head, but Knight keeper Jahmali Waite made an outstanding point-blank save.
That ratcheted up the urgency for UConn, but the consistency was lacking. A nice pass or two would always follow a sloppy final ball. A higher press to win the ball back was then carelessly given away. Sometimes UConn would step and press, and other times it was slow to react. There were stretches of sterling play, followed by boneheaded decisions on the ball.
But despite all the unsettling play, UConn had a chance in the 87th minute, in a free kick at that same spot. However, Lapert mistimed a point-blank header on a Harris service. Overall, UConn outshot FDU 12-5 and the corner edge 10-2, but couldn’t convert.
In the end, this trap game wasn’t for lack of effort. The kids clearly battled, and matched FDU physically. However, the sharpness wasn’t there, and you could see it everywhere; touches on throw-ins, decision-making on set pieces, wild shots when possession was more prudent.
One thing stood out tactically. UConn far too often settled for negative passes. Possession is fine and great. But there’s a difference between dynamic possession and ‘out of ideas’ possession. Maybe its because their metronome Metzler was out, but many times a UConn player found himself devoid of options or angles, and had to resort to resetting and recycling. The little flicks, one-twos, short-short-longs that UConn had become known for were nowhere to be found today.
But give Farleigh Dickinson credit, they were industrious in their organization and work ethic. It was quite simply, just one of those games.
UConn will try to bounce back on Wednesday, when they travel down to New Haven for a 7:00 p.m. in-state showdown against Yale.