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Plenty of positives for UConn men’s soccer after first weekend

The Huskies bounced back Sunday with a 2-0 win over Holy Cross after losing to Charlotte in their opener.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The Chris Gbandi era has found its footing. The UConn men’s soccer team is 1-1-0 on the young season, dropping the home opener to Charlotte 3-1 on Friday but bouncing back with a commanding 2-0 win vs. Holy Cross on Sunday. The win was highlighted by a sellout crowd at Morrone Stadium, complete with support from a wide range of other varsity athletes in attendance, including both basketball teams.

“I was proud of them,” Gbandi said after the Holy Cross win. “It was a tough game against Charlotte to come away without points, so to come out with the intensity tonight against a well-coached Holy Cross team was great.”

The Huskies certainly stumbled out of the gate on Friday though, conceding to Charlotte in the first four minutes of Friday’s game. While Connecticut native Scott Testori leveled things 30 minutes later with an opportunistic tap-in, UConn promptly gave up two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half. There were some positives. Gbandi’s boys played an attractive brand of soccer, pinging the ball around the field and passing out of tight spaces with some nifty combinations.

It was some of the more aesthetically pleasing soccer seen in Storrs in recent years, but the Huskies’ penchant for playing out of the back eventually caught up to them; two of Charlotte’s three goals caused by turnovers in the defensive end. However, UConn did outshoot the 49ers eight to four in the second half, and grad transfer Frantz Pierrot was a physical presence up top. Charlotte was tied for third in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll and should be a contender to make the NCAA tournament again, so Friday’s loss was a disappointing but understandable outcome.

It was all forgotten by Sunday night though, after UConn took care of business against a Holy Cross team picked fourth in the Patriot league preseason poll. The defense was tightened up and contained All-Patriot League sophomore Evan Jones, who played his high school soccer at Hall High. And there’s really no words to describe the free kick from junior Moussa Wade:

What an absurd angle. Usually if you’re putting that on frame, you’re hoping for the keeper to just bobble it into the mixer. Filth of the highest order, as Stuart Holden would say, and cool to see him engage the crowd with a Morrone Leap.

UConn dominated the Crusaders in possession and shots, and gained some separation in the second half after Pierrot knocked home a 50-50 ball in the box. It won’t win any style points, but being in the right place at the right time is a skill. Preseason All-Big East selection Mateo Leveque stood out for his calming presence in the middle, while freshman Christian Dionne flashed as a substitute.

After the game, senior Jayden Reid was buzzing about the crowd: “The boys did amazing, and it was all because of the atmosphere. We need more of that every weekend.”

Gbandi echoed his captain, calling the crowd “Unbelievable. We wanted to make sure we put a show on, with our intensity and attacking style. Our guys were flying tonight, so hopefully we can get that crowd to come back next Friday for NJIT.”

UConn will be back in action Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. against NJIT at Morrone Stadium.