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Notebook: UConn men’s soccer showing signs of promise

The Huskies are fresh off a dramatic last-minute win over Providence.

The UConn men’s soccer team faces a long road back to national powerhouse status. In year one under head coach Chris Gbandi though, there have been some promising moments for the 3-5-1 side this season.

The latest glimpse came during last night’s downpour when the Huskies dispatched Providence 3-2 in a dramatic, back-and-forth contest. Connecticut native Scott Testori headed home the winner in the the 89th minute, stunning a Friars team — picked first in the Big East preseason poll — that had equalized twice already.

After the game, Gbandi was proud of the team’s fight.

“Credit to Providence for fighting back, but our guys showed the right mentality today,” he told the team’s Twitter account. “We’ve been through a lot the last few weeks. They kept fighting and pushing through, and it showed with that third goal. A lot of teams would give up and settle for the tie in that situation.”

Freshman forward Eli Conway got the scoring started for UConn in the 22nd minute, heading home a well-weighted cross from sophomore Kai Griese. Providence got its first equalizer 19 minutes later, capitalizing on poor marking after UConn let a corner bounce in the six-yard box.

UConn’s high pressing style and the overall Providence rivalry meant a lot chippiness; the Huskies were whistled for 14 fouls and were issued three yellow cards. Buildup play was solid and Gbandi’s boys moved the ball well, but the final product was lacking. However in the 82nd minute, a 25-yard free kick from sophomore Mateo Leveque deflected off the Providence wall, hit the cross bar, and somehow found its way into the net. It was quite the stroke of good fortune, but it’s better to be lucky than good, right?

Not even a minute later, Providence would come back and yet again off a corner, smashing home a free ball in the box. A draw seemed inevitable until junior captain Jayden Reid slalomed through two defenders and fired in a looping cross with his left that found Testori in the middle. Cue the pandemonium.

The Huskies are now 1-2-1 in the Big East, having dropped points to Butler and Xavier, while tying Creighton. Bear in mind, junior midfielder Moussa Wade, who led the Huskies in points last year, was lost in the NJIT game and is believed to have torn his ACL. In his stead, Leveque has logged two goals and five assists, while grand transfer Frantz Pierrot leads the team with three goals. Testori and junior Soren Ilsoe each have two goals and one assist apiece.

Beyond the numbers, Gbandi has the Huskies playing an attractive style of soccer, with Leveque pulling the strings in the middle, Pierrot a more-than-capable target man, and attacking talent galore on the wings.

However, a high press and some shoddy marking has bit the Huskies in certain games, such as the 5-0 shellacking from Syracuse and the 4-1 pounding from Butler. Luckily, Pierrot is the only one that graduates this year. While that means this season could have plenty of growing pains where the results may not always be there, brighter days may be ahead. Gbandi’s boys have shown a commitment to an identity and enough flashes of promise to make 2023 a potential statement year.

In the meantime, keep an eye on UConn alum Andre Blake as his first place Philadelphia Union look to storm through the MLS playoffs. Blake is one of the favorites to take home his third Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Don’t forget about Cyle Larin either, who’s Club Brugge is ransacking its Champions League group that features Atletico Madrid, FC Porto, and Bayer Leverkusen. While Larin has featured in only seven games for the Belgian side, he’ll be a goal scoring threat all November for Canada in the World Cup.