Men’s Soccer: Huskies’ offense roaring to life at the perfect time

UConn men's soccer defender Simen Olafsen kicks the ball into the net after a set piece during the Huskies' game against Temple during the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The UConn men’s soccer team had trouble at times offensively this year, including a six-game winless streak at midseason in which the team failed to score more than once in any game. But that has changed in recent weeks, as the Huskies finished the regular season with three multi-goal games out of five on their way to a 4-0-1 finish.

The floodgates burst open at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Friday night, as UConn routed Temple 4-0 in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal. It was the first time the team had scored three goals in a match in 2015, let alone four.

“We had a lot of chances in earlier games and I think today we finally had the luck on our side,” UConn defender Simon Olafsen said after the match. “It’s definitely very good for us.”

Olafsen was the first Husky to tally, as he found himself alone at the back post on a corner kick in the 34th minute. Olafsen bodied it past Temple goalkeeper Alex Cagle to give his team the crucial opening goal. Heading into Saturday’s game, UConn was 6-1-1 when scoring the first goal of the match.

Olafsen’s goal was far from a fluke, as the Huskies consistently created chances to score on Temple’s defense. The most dangerous chance came in the 26th minute when a beautiful passing play led to an open shot for Tyler Leeman, which he fired forcefully off the right post. 

We’re playing with house money right now. We’re going to go down and try to keep the game close, but we’re the underdog. They’re the odds-on favorite in this one.
— UConn head coach Ray Reid, on the Huskies' semifinal opponent No. 2-seed South Florida

UConn was a bit sloppy near their own goal in the first half, but they still went to the halftime break with a 1-0 lead and a comfortable 7-3 advantage in shots.

The Huskies struck again on a corner kick in the 54th minute. Kwame Awuah put a lofted ball right into the middle of the box, where Abdou Thiam put it away after it bounced off a few bodies. The assist was Awuah’s second of the contest at that point.

Awuah emphasized the importance of set pieces to the team’s offensive success, after the game.

“We have a group that is willing to learn new things, so when our coaches demonstrate new set piece ideas, we call them, and everybody executed them well. Set pieces are an important thing and they can decide any game,” Awuah said.

Awuah also added some individual flair into the scoring mix in the 63rd minute. After taking a pass from Moustapha Samb, he advanced up the field and fired an impressive finesse shot past Cagle from about 25 yards out. The goal was an emphatic exclamation point that seemed to drastically increase Temple’s frustration level. After the goal, the Owls took two yellow cards for bringing down UConn players.

DeAndrae Brown added the fourth goal with five minutes remaining. For the Huskies, it was an unusually explosive night as they scored four times on 11 shots. However, UConn coach Ray Reid downplayed the chance that the offense saw a real breakthrough.

“[Temple] was taking chances, trying to get back into the game, and we got them on the counter. Our guys did a good job tonight and that’s all we can ask for right now,” Reid said.

Either way, the offense is firing on all cylinders and it comes at an important time. Next, the Huskies will head down to Tampa to face South Florida, on their home turf, in the tournament semifinal. Last year, the Bulls ended UConn’s season in the tournament final in Storrs, a heartbreaking loss for the Huskies that ended in an ugly series of penalty kicks.

The Huskies will need to turn the tables this season and get revenge if they hope to find themselves in the NCAA tournament. UConn defeated South Florida 2-1 at Morrone Stadium on Halloween night.

“We’re playing with house money right now,” Reid said. “We’re going to go down and try to keep the game close, but we’re the underdog. They’re the odds-on favorite in this one.”


Tyler Keating is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus, covering UConn soccer. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.