After a 3-1 comeback victory over Temple on Tuesday, the UConn men’s soccer team advances to the second round of the conference tournament to take on top-seeded UCF on Thursday.
The fourth-seeded Huskies (11-4-2, 3-2-2 The American) and UCF Knights (12-2-2, 5-1-1) first met this season back on Oct. 12, when the teams fought their way through a defensive standoff, resulting in a 0-0 draw. That game was played in Orlando on UCF’s home field, and since the Knights won the regular season title, UCF will host UConn once again on Thursday.
After conceding a Temple goal in the 25th minute, UConn came roaring back on Tuesday, scoring three unanswered to take down the fifth-seeded Owls. Dayonn Harris and Cole Venner were the stars of the match for UConn, each scoring second-half goals and applying pressure throughout.
“All year our guys have been resilient,” head coach Ray Reid said after the game. “They do everything the hard way. We’ve got to play a very difficult Central Florida team Thursday night, but at least we’re still around for another game.”
On the other side of the bracket, six-seed Memphis upset three-seed USF, 3-1, to kick off the tournament on Tuesday. The Tigers now take on two-seed SMU, the winner of which will play either UConn or UCF in the finals.
UCF, ranked No. 7 in the country, had a dominant regular season, but given their bye, has yet to be tested in the postseason. The Knights are riding a nine-game unbeaten streak, outscoring opponents 24-7 over that span.
Junior Cal Jennings has had a record-setting season for UCF. His 19 goals are the second-most in the entire country, and with a nation-leading 80 shots this season, no one generates more goal-scoring opportunities than Jennings. He has set the single-season records in goals and points (42) not only for UCF, but in American Athletic Conference history.
Led by Jennings, UCF boasts one of the most potent offenses in the country, averaging 2.5 goals per game. The Knights have scored four or more goals six times this season, including an eight-goal outburst against Jacksonville on Oct. 2.
The strong UConn defense, led by seniors Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and Dylan Greenberg, was all over Jennings in the regular season matchup, and shut out the Knights over regulation and two overtime periods. They’ll look to do the same on Thursday.
The Huskies offense isn’t too shabby either. Senior Abdou Mbacke Thiam is top-10 in the country in goals (13) and points (32), and Harris has surged in the second half with six assists.
“We had a letdown (against Tulsa), but we’re really locked in right now,” said Harris. “We just have to take it one game at a time.”
If the first matchup is any indication, Thursday’s semifinal should be a tenacious battle between two superb teams. The Huskies will look to punch their ticket to the conference championship beginning at 7 p.m. in Orlando.