The UConn women’s soccer team bounced back from a conference opening defeat in a convincing fashion, beating ECU 2-1 on Sunday afternoon.
It is the Huskies’ (3-5-3) first win against an American Athletic Conference opponent this season after a loss to Cincinnati on Thursday, moving to 1-0-1 in conference action. On the other hand, the Pirates (5-5-3) are still winless in the conference portion of their schedule, losing all four contests so far.
“We’re finding ourselves right now,” said head coach Len Tsantiris. “Definitely we have talent, we’re now starting to play.”
The opening minutes of the game were played almost exclusively in ECU’s half, with the Huskies dominating possession. However, UConn struggled to generate good looks, with neither team recording a shot in the first ten minutes.
That is until the Huskies earned a corner kick in the 10th minute. Senior Danielle Gottwick, who was the catalyst for much of UConn’s attack, whipped in a low line drive corner. The ball sailed towards the near post, where sophomore Erin Spillane was waiting. Spillane volleyed the ball on the fly straight into the corner of the goal, her first goal of the season giving the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
A major issue all season for the Huskies has been conceding the first goal and having to work from behind as their opponent drops back and plays ultra-defensive. On Sunday, they played with the lead for 85 minutes.
“It was huge,” said Tsantiris, on striking first. “They (ECU) had to come out.”
The momentum shifted about 25 minutes into the half. ECU’s first scoring opportunity came in the 27th minute on a counter-attack. With most of UConn’s players pushed into ECU’s half, the ball skirted out to an ECU attacker at midfield, opening a three-on-two advantage for the Pirates. However, freshman Paige Liebel intercepted the final pass in the box, preserving the 1-0 lead for the moment, but it wouldn’t last much longer.
Less than a minute later, the Pirates got their equalizer. ECU’s Chentay Warnes found teammate Jenna Geist waiting just onside in UConn’s box. Geist showcased some impressive footwork, faking a shot to get past a UConn defender and get Huskies’ keeper Courtney Hofer out of position, then finishing with a strong right foot to tie the game at 1-1.
“There’s only one breakdown, and the other team scores,” said Tsantiris, voicing his frustration after the game. “That has been in every game we’ve played.”
Five minutes later, the Huskies responded. Senior Sabrina Toole notched her second goal of the season off an Elena Santos assist, giving the Huskies a 2-1 lead. Santos dribbled to the end line and crossed into the center of the box, where Toole finished in traffic. Before the ball even hit nylon, Toole was already sprinting back to midfield to celebrate with Hofer.
The Huskies have looked like a far more confident unit since Hofer took over in goal on Thursday. She’s been solid in goal, but her leadership and communication have been vital to an otherwise young, inexperienced group. Coach Tsantiris noted that “it’s a different team” with Hofer in net, and Toole echoed that after the game.
“When Courtney came into the game, the whole shape of the defense was immediately better,” said Toole. “We finally had a voice. Her leadership helps us immensely.”
For a team that has routinely struggled to finish scoring opportunities, the first half was a welcome change. The Huskies recorded only four shots, but three were on goal, and two were scores. UConn also had a 4-0 corner kick advantage in the half.
The Huskies thoroughly dominated the second half, but couldn’t extend their lead. Junior Vivien Beil created numerous opportunities along the left wing but to no avail, as ECU defenders repeatedly blocked shots before they could test the keeper.
The pace slowed as the half continued as things got a little chippy. ECU’s Jayda Hylton-Pelaia was awarded a yellow card after a particularly nasty header attempt, and committed another foul shortly afterwards. UConn’s bench clamored for a second yellow, but the referees allowed her to play on.
After an uneventful final ten minutes, the clock hit triple zeroes, and the Huskies celebrated their fourth victory of the season. UConn closed with a 14-4 advantage in shots, allowing only one shot in the second, and a 6-0 corner kick lead.
The Huskies will look to keep it rolling on Thursday against Tulsa.