In one of the most decisive games on its schedule, the No. 20 UConn men’s soccer team battled to a scoreless draw at No. 19 UCF on Friday in a battle of the best two teams in The American.
Entering Friday’s match, the Huskies (7-2-2, 2-0-2 The American) had secured spots in every major national ranking in the country. UConn sits at No. 20 according to United Soccer Coaches, typically considered the most influential poll. The Huskies are also No. 12 in TopDrawerSoccer’s poll, No. 21 on Soccer America and 13th in RPI.
Friday’s draw against a top-notch UCF (8-2-2, 2-1-1 The American) team, currently ranked at No. 19 on the all-important United Soccer Coaches poll, certainly won’t hurt their national position, but the Huskies had opportunities to come away with three points instead of the one.
UConn senior and lead goal-scorer Abdou Mbacke Thiam was the catalyst as usual in the first half, but was unable to find the back of the net. In the 11th minute, Thiam beat a UCF defender with a nifty dribble and fired a shot on goal, but it was saved. A short time later, another Thiam shot narrowly went wide of the left post.
However, it was a first half mostly dominated by the Knights, leading 10-2 in shots. Junior forward Cal Jennings, second in the country with 14 goals scored, was consistently in the middle of things, though the Huskies typically swarmed him every time the ball came near.
UCF came within inches of the lead in the 35th minute mark, as a shot from Mauricio Villalobos got past UConn goalie Austin Aviza and trickled towards the Huskies’ net. However, just before it crossed the line, UConn’s Dylan Greenberg got there first, booting it to the sideline.
Momentum shifted in the second half as the UConn defense ramped up its intensity. As a result, it was a generally uneventful half, and the Knights mustered just a single attempt on goal.
UConn nearly found the game-winner with just two minutes remaining in regulation. Sophomore Josh Burnett appeared to have an uncontested look on goal after beating the UCF keeper, but he hesitated slightly and didn’t get full power behind the kick, allowing the goalie to scramble back and save it just before crossing the line. It was quite similar to Greenberg’s heroics in the first half, but the Huskies were on the wrong end this time around.
With the game tied at the end of regulation, the teams went to overtime. Although the clock reset, the flow of the game did not. It remained a choppy, foul-filled, defensive struggle for both 10-minute overtime periods, and the evenly-matched teams walked away with a draw.
UConn remains at the top of the AAC standings with eight conference points, though USF has now moved into a tie for first. Despite leading the conference in overall winning percentage, UCF still trails UConn by a point in conference standings.
Next up for the Huskies is Boston College (4-4-3) on Tuesday night at home, a rescheduled matchup from Sept. 18. Though it doesn’t have conference implications, UConn will look to reassert their potential and remain undefeated at home.