In the final regular season game at Morrone Stadium, the UConn men’s soccer team suffered a frustrating defeat to SMU, 2-0, on Sunday. It’s the first time all season the Huskies have dropped a home game, and it’s a major blow to their hopes of getting the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Here’s how it happened:
Honoring seniors one final time…
Four graduating seniors were honored before Sunday’s match, joined by their families on the field for the plaque presentation. Abdou Mbacke Thiam, Jacob Hauser-Ramsey, Dylan Greenberg and Nkosi Burgess will all be leaving the program after phenomenal tenures at UConn.
Thiam wraps up his career as one of the best forwards in UConn history. The Senegal native has been a starter since the first game of his freshman year and this final season as a Husky has been his finest yet, leading the team with 12 goals and six assists, including six game-winners.
After making 16 starts last season, Burgess’s minutes have been limited this season, mainly due to the rock-solid work from his fellow defenders. He made nine appearances in 2018, including some time in the first half of Sunday’s game.
Hauser-Ramsey is the unquestioned captain of the defense, and has been for the last three seasons. Alongside him, Greenberg has had a fantastic season, adding two assists in addition to holding the back line. Defensive stats in soccer are difficult to quantify, but the duo is a large reason why the Huskies had 13 shutouts in the past two seasons and boast one of the strongest defenses in the conference.
…and saying farewell to Morrone
For the last 50 years, UConn soccer made its home at Morrone Stadium. That run likely came to a bittersweet close on Sunday, as construction is set to begin on the new athletic facilities, expected to be done by the 2020 season.
It’s been a magical final season at Morrone for the Huskies, who went 9-1-1 there, with Sunday’s game the sole blemish in 11 home matches. Had the game been played on Saturday as scheduled, there would have been a ceremony for the stadium after the game. Unfortunately, it was postponed due to rain, but on Sunday, Morrone still got special treatment, as they used two hovering helicopters to dry the field before the game.
If the Huskies end up hosting the conference tournament, which looks unlikely with the loss, it may possibly be played at Morrone, though that decision is still pending.
Mustang defense holds strong
SMU has the best defense in the conference statistically, and it was on full display Sunday. The Huskies were frustrated throughout the match, frequently controlling the ball deep in SMU territory and rattling off 12 shots, but they could not find the back of the net.
Mustangs keeper Grant Makela was superb, making a handful of diving saves. The guys in front of him were even better, especially Thomas Haney and Talen Maples, who each had goal-saving blocks.
“I thought the team in front of [Makela] did a good job blocking shots, sliding,” Reid said. “We got to be tougher, mentally and physically.”
Where UConn stands
The loss will certainly hurt UConn’s current No. 15 ranking, though Coach Reid and company are far more concerned about how it affects the conference standings.
With the SMU victory and UCF’s win over Memphis on Saturday, SMU and UCF move into a tie for first place with 13 conference points. UCF would win that tiebreaker, having beaten the Mustangs earlier in the season. UConn falls to third place with 11 points, tied with USF, but the Huskies edge out that tie because of a better overall record.
At this point, there’s no possible way UConn misses out on the conference tournament as they can fall no lower than fourth. However, with just one game remaining and UCF and SMU both two points ahead, UConn would need a victory over Tulsa and both the first-place teams to lose to regain the top spot. It’s certainly possible, but the Huskies know they missed a huge opportunity.
“There’s no positives in losing,” Reid said. “My guys are serious enough and mature enough to be focused whether we win or lose, so I don’t think there any positives.”