Men's Soccer: Awuah leads UConn to first round NCAA tournament win

UConn men's soccer junior midfielder Kwame Awuah dribbes the ball during the Huskies' NCAA tournament game against Boston University at Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Awuah recorded two goals and an assist to lead UConn past the Terriers 3-1. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Four days ago in Florida, junior co-captain Kwame Awuah sent his penalty kick attempt in the American Athletic Conference championship game over the cross bar, and because of his miss in the sixth round of penalties, UConn lost to Tulsa.

Awuah, being an outwardly confident player, didn’t let his missed penalty keep him down, as he knew he had to set an example for his team.

“I’m a pretty confident guy,” Awuah said. “Missing the penalty, yeah, I was upset, but I talked to the team and I told them we’re going to get in the NCAA Tournament and we’re going to win the first game.”

Awuah and the Huskies did just that. Awuah recorded two goals and an assist to lead UConn past Boston University, 3-1, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in front of 1,423 fans at Morrone Stadium.

The Huskies (10-5-6) will play at Indiana in the second round on Sunday. After starting the season 3-5-4, the Huskies have rebounded tremendously, posting a 7-0-2 record down the stretch.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Reid said. “These guys don’t want it [the season] to end, they don’t want it to end, so I give them a lot of credit.”

It wasn’t easy for the Huskies on Thursday, however. Boston University (12-6-2) scored first with 15:03 to play in the first half thanks to a goal from junior Felix De Bona, his ninth of the season.

BU’s Mark Wadid sent a low cross into the box and De Bona was able to make a run across the goal and get a foot on the cross, sending the ball into the roof of the net.

“I just faked to my left and got the defender to guess where I was going and I just made a run to the front post,” De Bona said. “Wadid put a nice cross in and all I had to do was deflect it in.”

De Bona’s goal was BU’s first shot on net.

The Huskies had their chances in the first half, most of them coming from the right wing. Tyler Leeman had a chance a few minutes into the game but his shot sailed over the cross bar.

Awuah and Mark Richards both had quality chances in on the Terriers’ net, but their touches were too far in front of them and goalkeeper Matt Gilbert was able to clear the ball.

UConn had four shots in the first half. BU had three.

“I told everybody in the locker room to relax,” Awuah said. “I knew we weren’t losing the game. Sorry to be confident, but I just had that much faith in our team.”

With 36:52 left in the game, UConn was finally able to break the BU defense.

Awuah narrowly saved the ball from crossing the goal line – most of the BU players stopped playing in hopes of a whistle – and sent a cross inside the box. DeAndrae Brown was able to get a foot on the cross and slide the ball past Gilbert to tie the game.

The goal marked Brown’s second of the season and Awuah’s 12th assist of the year.

“Obviously our guys thought the ball was out of bounds but that’s no excuse to stop playing, whether it was out or not out,” BU head coach Neil Roberts said. “It doesn’t matter, so we should have kept playing on that one and that was disappointing.”

Awuah gave UConn a 2-1 lead in the 76th minute when he caught Gilbert off his line, curling a shot into the top left corner.

“When I got the ball at that moment, (No.) 22 dropped off trying to get help and I saw the goalkeeper, he’s been coming off his line most of the game so I just tried to chip it as hard as I can,” Awuah said.

Using the right flank more in the second half, the Huskies were able to put the game out of reach with 7:44 to play when Jake Nerwinski crossed a low ball into the box and Awuah was able to get his foot onto it and get it past Gilbert to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead.

“Me and Jake have been working well together, so every chance we get the chance to go at the defense we just took our chances and made it happen,” Awuah said.

BU kept the pressure on UConn most of the game, possessing the ball mostly in UConn’s half. After UConn tied the game 1-1, the Terriers dominated the Huskies for 20 minutes. They weren’t able to create a lot of quality scoring opportunities, other than seven corner kicks.

“We we’re able to absorb as much pressure as we could and Scott (Levene) made some good catches off the corner kicks,” Awuah said.

After an abysmal start to the season – at least by UConn standards – the Huskies are playing with “house money” going into the game against Indiana on Sunday, Reid said.

“I couldn’t be more happier with these guys, to be honest with you. Not just because of today, but because the last month. We turned it (the season) around, they turned it around.”


Matthew Zampini is sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.zampini@uconn.edu. He tweets @Matt_Zamp.