Men's Soccer: UConn advances to conference semifinal

UConn freshman forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam chases down the ball during the Huskies' quarterfinal game against Temple in the American Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Thiam had two goals in the 4-0 victory. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The UConn men’s soccer team saw its offense explode in its biggest game of the season so far.

Their 4-0 win over Temple was the first time they scored more than two goals in a game this season. It could not have come at a better moment than during their final home game of 2015.

“We knew that in order to win, we had to go out and play harder than (Temple),” said captain Kwame Awuah. “Playoff time, whoever works harder is going to win the game. That’s all that matters.”

Two goals from freshman forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam and a goal a piece from Simen Olafsen and DeAndrae Brown propelled third seeded UConn (8-5-5) to the semifinal of the American Athletic Conference tournament. They will square off against second seeded USF. The game is in Tampa Bay, on USF’s campus.

Freshman defender Olafsen put UConn up 1-0 in the 33rd minute when he controlled a deflected ball in the box after a curving corner attempt from the junior Awuah. He beat Temple keeper Alex Cagle on the near post for the goal. It was Olafsen’s his first goal in a UConn uniform.

“We worked a lot of set pieces during practice with coach (John) Deeley, so that was a vital part of the game today,” Olafsen said. “I’m definitely satisfied with the way the group worked.”

UConn won five corners during the game and converted two into goals.

Thiam scored in the 54th minute make it a 2-0 lead for UConn. Thiam's goal was assisted by Awuah off the corner kick. It was Awuah’s ninth assist of the year. Just nine or so minutes later, Thiam bagged his 10th goal when he took a pass a from freshman Moustapha Samb about 25 yards out from goal.

Thiam took a few touches then sent a rocket to the right corner of the goal, to put UConn up 3-0. Thiam, who has scored in six of his last seven games, has been named the American Conference Rookie of the Week three straight weeks. He leads the team in goals.

“His adaption to the U.S. college game (has been the difference). (Thiam) knows what we need from him now and he’s able to understand,” Awuah said. “If he can get the ball in dangerous places, he can finish it off. He’s a quality player.”

In the 85th minute, the Huskies hit Temple on the counterattack. Freshman forward DeAndrae Brown put the game away when he buried his first career goal, heading a cross from Samb into the bottom right corner of the goal.

Sophomore keeper Scott Levene made four saves to earn his seventh shutout of the season.

It was a productive, but fruitless night for senior forward Tyler Leeman. He put had three strong scoring opportunities that he couldn’t convert into goals.

The Huskies improved to 4-0-1 all time against the Owls. Temple ends their season at 10-7-2.

Unbeaten in their last six matches, UConn will meet USF in the semifinals on Nov. 13.

“South Florida is a very good team,” head coach Ray Reid said. “We’re playing with house money right now. We’re a young group, they have much more experience than we do. We’re going to go down there and keep the game close. (USF) probably has the most talent in the league, they’re at home, they finished second in the league. We’re the underdog, they’re the odds on favorite in this one.”


Elan-Paolo DeCarlo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at elan-paolo.decarlo@uconn.edu. He tweets @ElanDeCarlo.