Tonight, UConn men’s soccer has a chance to do something it hasn’t done since Andre Blake was between the posts. The Huskies will look to topple national powerhouse Georgetown for the first time since 2012 in the Big East Tournament semifinals at 7:30 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Md.
Chris Gbandi’s first year at the helm for his alma mater was somewhat promising with a 7-7-3 record, but the team failing to make the Big East Tournament. Heading into the 2023 season, UConn lost Big East first-teamer Mateo Leveque to Syracuse, and was picked to finish fifth in the six-team East Division. Not a single player garnered any preseason accolades.
Instead, the Huskies went 8-7-1 in the regular season and 4-4-0 in the conference, good for third in the East and highlighted by a thrilling home win vs. St. John’s and a tough road dub vs. Creighton. In the first round of the Big East Tournament last week, fifth-seeded UConn once more dispatched the fourth-seeded Johnnies 2-1, with sophomore Eli Conway bagging the game winner in overtime.
Now loom the Hoyas, ranked No. 3 in the country and ready to complete their revenge tour after losing to Creighton in the Big East championship last year. Georgetown, which beat UConn 3-0 in the regular season on Oct. 7, has won the Big East title five times since 2015 and has a national title in 2019.
Gbandi’s boys need only look at Creighton last year for motivation; the Blue Jays were the 6th seed in the Big East tournament, but stormed their way not only to the conference title but made the NCAA Final Four after that. Postseason momentum is a thing, folks; don’t let the Huskies get hot.
After UConn punched above its weight this season, regular season honors rolled in. Kieran Chandler (a Simsbury, CT native) was named Co-Big East Rookie of the Year and landed on the All-Big East third team. Pierce Bateson and Madison, CT native Scott Testori, who led the team with eight goals and four assists, also made the third team.
The future is bright for the Huskies. Bateson is a sophomore, as is Conway, who is third on the team in points. Testori is a junior, and the only seniors to log serious minutes throughout the season were defender Josh Morgan and midfielder Guillaume Vecter.
While the Big East beyond Georgetown is far from a gauntlet in the broader NCAA landscape, and UConn’s schedule was admittedly on the lighter side in terms of opponents, Gbandi deserves credit for the upward trajectory of the once-proud program.
It’s about time the Goal Patrol, which one again led the nation in attendance, is rewarded for its loyalty.