Men's Soccer: Thiam rallies UConn past UC Santa Barbara with 2 late goals

UConn freshman forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam dribbles downfield during the Huskies' game against UC Santa Barbara at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. Thiam, a Senegal native, scored a pair of goals in the game. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The UConn men’s soccer team (2-0-3) scored two late goals with under six and a half minutes remaining to defeat the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (2-1-2) on a rainy Sunday night at Joseph Morrone Stadium.

UConn headed into Sunday’s game with some offensive momentum from their Thursday 2-0 win over Harvard. However, the game would be full of momentum swings. The Huskies controlled most of the first half but they were outplayed for the majority of the second.

UConn had three straight corner kicks ten minutes into the match after UConn junior defender Jakob Nerwinski was tripped two yards outside of the box. However they were not able to punch any of them into the net.

The Huskies’ best opportunity for a goal in the first half came from freshman forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam at the 15-minute mark. Thiam received a beautiful through-ball in stride for a breakaway, but he was called offside. 

UConn pressured Gauchos goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg once again at the 23-minute mark when Simen Olafsen nearly scored on a corner header that deflected off the right post. 

The Huskies had a 5-0 shot advantage with 17 minutes remaining in the half.  However, the UC Santa Barbara offense would wake up late in the first half. They pressured the Husky defense consistently, pelting UConn goalkeeper Scott Levene with six shots in the final 16 minutes. 

“Tonight in the first half, we played really well,” said UConn head coach Ray Reid. “It was the best we have played all year. Then we get into a 30-minute lull, then we showed great resiliency again.”

The Gauchos came out as a completely different team in the second half. They had three great scoring opportunities seven minutes into the half. The best one came from junior forward Nick DePuy’s nifty header at the 53-minute mark. UConn’s Drew Olafsen robbed DuPey of a goal when he made an unbelievable play to stop the ball on the goal line. 

Things really began to go the Gauchos way once sophomore forward Ahinga Selemani was rewarded a penalty kick after UConn midfielder Alex Sanchez tripped him up inside the box.  

“I give Alex credit, he tracked the guy down,” Reid said. “He tackles him, and well it is a penalty. I would have wanted that call.”

Selemani’s teammate, Drew Murphy, would score on the penalty kick at the 58-minute mark, giving the Gauchos a 1-0 lead. 

All signs pointed toward a UConn loss late in this game. The Huskies were trailing by one with seven minutes to play, and they were being outplayed in the second half.

However, a tag-team offensive performance from Kwame Awuah and Thiam would change the script of the game. Awuah assisted Thiam on two straight goals within two minutes of each other. Thiam’s equalizer came at the 84-minute mark on a corner kick from Awuah. Then before you could blink, Awuah found Thiam with a beautiful center pass that Thiam was able to slam home. 

“At first I thought he was too far back,” Awuah said. “I waited for him to come to the top of the box, then I cut it square for him. We have a good relationship on the field and off the field. We know how to connect with each other. It was a beautiful goal, and I give him all the credit for scoring the goal.”

Reid had very high praise for Awuah after Sunday’s win.

“Kwame Awuah is one of the best players in the country,” Reid said. “The kid is as good of a field player as we have had here. He has an average game tonight, and he was still involved directly with both goals. This guy figured out a way to win the game for us tonight.” 

UConn is next scheduled to host the University of Rhode Island at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.


Eddie Leonard is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering UConn men's soccer. He tweets @EddieLeonard23.