Despite its recent struggles, the UConn men’s soccer team held their own on Saturday night. If the Huskies beat No. 13 SMU, they would clinch the American Athletic Conference regular season title and host the conference tournament next weekend. A UConn loss would crown SMU regular season champions and the American tournament would be in Dallas.
UConn (8-7-2, 4-3 The American) gave the Mustangs a tough fight, but ultimately lost their third consecutive conference match. On senior night for No. 13 SMU, sophomore Garrett McLaughlin scored the game-winner in the 78th minute to break a scoreless tie and lead the Mustangs to victory.
McLaughlin’s goal was his conference-leading 13th of the season and perhaps the strangest. UConn defender Nkosi Burgess deflected a pass high into the air that McLaughlin ran onto and shot. Goalkeeper Scott Levene deflected the shot into the air, but the ball trickled over the goal line just before Levene could get back to save it.
SMU (13-2-1, 5-1-1 The American) clinched the American regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with the win. The Mustangs outshot the Huskies 13-7 on the night, including a 6-2 advantage in shots on goal. UConn will be ranked No. 3 in the four-team American Championship next weekend.
Levene, a redshirt senior, made five saves for the Huskies in the last regular season match of his career. Levene finished second in the conference with 62 saves this season, bringing him to 217 in his historic UConn career. With the match against SMU, Levene extended his consecutive starts streak to 69 games, good for second-best of any goalkeeper in program history.
UConn had seven different players record a shot on the night. Burgess had an opportunity for an equalizer in the final minute of the match, but his header off a corner kick was saved by the SMU goalkeeper. Sophomore Niko Petridis had the Huskies’ only other shot on goal in the 63rd minute that required a diving save to keep the game tied.
After starting the conference slate 4-0, UConn lost each of its last three American matches by one goal. The Huskies will head right back to Dallas next weekend for the American Championship, hosted by SMU. As the No. 3 seed, UConn will take on No. 2 UCF in the semifinals.
With the odds of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament looking slim, the Huskies will have to defeat UCF and then win the Championship next weekend to clinch a spot in the 48-team field.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.