The UConn women’s soccer team returned from a ten-day absence with a difficult loss to swallow Thursday night, falling to Cincinnati 1-0 in the Huskies’ conference opener.
“Everything was there to win this game,” head coach Len Tsantiris said after the game. “We played with authority, we played with confidence. We sort of won.”
This is the fifth loss of the year for UConn (2-5-3), in their first game against an American Athletic Conference opponent. The Bearcats (8-2-1), who are just outside of the Top 25 in the country, are now 2-0-1 in conference play after a victory against USF and draw against No. 14 UCF.
Senior goalkeeper Courtney Hofer, a transfer from TCU, made her UConn debut after missing the first nine games of the season with a head injury.
“She’s a leader,” said Tsantiris. “We need somebody like that with a young team.”
Hofer proved her value early, making a tough save in the 13th minute, leaping and pushing a rising shot over the crossbar. She was noticeably slow getting up but didn’t show any further signs of injury. After the game, she echoed her coach’s call for a leader.
“We have a very young team,” Hofer said. “At the end of the day, I’ve been in college three-and-a-half years. It’s time to step up. We needed some leadership, and the other seniors were doing a good job, but I think I have something different to offer this team.”
The Huskies responded with a near-goal of their own five minutes later. A cross trickled through the box, landing at the feet of UConn’s Vivien Beil, arguably the Huskies’ most effective offensive player as of late. Beil pivoted and shot, but the ball went wide of the net.
After a mostly quiet first half, UConn ramped up the pressure in the final 10 minutes of the half. In the 42nd minute, freshman Yamilee Eveillard created enough space to get off a clear shot, with her shot rolling just wide of the post. A minute later, junior Kim Urbanek unleashed a shot from outside the box which sailed barely above the crossbar.
At the half, the Huskies led the Bearcats in shots 10-2, with one corner kick apiece.
The second half began much like the first, with UConn goalie Hofer put to the test in her first game as a Husky. Five minutes in, Cincinnati’s Jaycie Brown gathered the ball inside the six with only the goalie to beat, but Hofer made a superb sliding save to keep the game scoreless.
Once again, after the Bearcats dominated the opening 10 minutes of the half, the Huskies responded. In the 59th minute, Beil delivered a perfectly placed cross from the corner into Eveillard in front of the near post, who flicked it on goal. However, Cincinnati goalie Madison Less was well-positioned and quickly covered it up.
The Bearcats finally broke through the in 69th minute thanks to some aggressive play and some good fortune. Cincinnati’s Katy Couperous launched a deep shot from about 45 yards out. Hofer leaped for the save, but the ball rebounded off the crossbar, landing right in front of Bearcats’ Jill Vetere, who put it home before Hofer could recover for a 1-0 lead.
The Huskies came tantalizingly close to a goal in the 80th minute, with some controversy. Urbanek unloaded from 25 yards out, with the ball hitting the bottom of the crossbar and going bar-down. Less quickly scrambled to smother it as the Huskies and the home crowd clamored for a goal. However, the referees ruled the ball did not cross the goal line, denying the would-be equalizer.
It would end up being the Huskies’ last real scoring opportunity of the match as the Bearcats dropped back, preserving the 1-0 final. UConn, as has been the story in many of their draws and defeats, vastly outshot their opponent by a 16-6 advantage.
The Huskies are back in play Sunday against ECU at home. The Pirates (5-5-2), after a successful nonconference slate, have struggled so far against American opponents. Following a loss to Temple on Thursday, ECU is now 0-3 in conference play, with losses to UCF and USF.
The Pirates are paced by standout junior Courtney Cash, who leads the team with 12 points, including five goals and two assists. Redshirt senior Jenna Geist is the main facilitator with three assists, and goalie Michelle Newhouse has recorded 39 saves on the season.
The Huskies will look for a bounceback victory, and their first conference win of the season, Sunday, 1 p.m. at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.
Andrew Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets at @asmor24