Men’s Soccer: UConn dealt crushing loss in conference semifinals to UCF 3-2

The Huskies look for a passing lane against Southern Methodist University on Oct. 28, 2018. (Eric Wang/ The Daily Campus)

With 10 seconds left to play in the second overtime of the game, Max Stiegwardt scored the go ahead goal on a free kick to take down UConn 3-2.

When these two teams met earlier this season, they tied 0-0 after two overtimes. This game seemed like it was going to go to penalty kicks, but after earning a free kick with 13 ticks on the clock, No. 7 UCF (13-2-2) capitalized to eliminate the No. 22 Huskies (11-5-2) from the conference tournament.

UConn came out strong and took a 2-0 lead in the first half. The first goal came in the 29th minute when Abdou Mbacke Thiam found Josh Burnett for his third goal of the season. The second came in the 42nd when Thiam scored one for himself on an assist from Blaise N’gague.

From halftime on, the game belonged to the Golden Knights. Just three minutes into the second half, UCF cut the lead in half on a header by Yoni Sorokin, assisted by the Golden Knights’ star Cal Jennings.

Then in the 81st minute, Jennings scored the clutch game-tying goal after a beautiful spin move got him the space to unleash an accurate shot just past the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Gianluca Catalano. UCF peppered UConn’s goal with shots in the second half, winning the shots battle 16-6.

In the 89th minute, Catalano made a clutch save on a shot headed for the top left corner of the net to keep the game tied and ultimately send it into overtime. This was Catalano’s second straight start after getting the victory over Temple and his third total start of the season.

UCF kept up the aggressive offense in overtime, outshooting the Huskies 8-2 during that 20 minutes of extra time. With one of their best PK shooters injured and another ejected, UCF had the mindset of ending the game before time ran out, and they did.

In the final minute, Stiegwardt earned a free kick on the left side of the box. He managed to put a tricky shot that bounced past Catalano and into the Huskies’ net to win the game and move on to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) championship, which will be played Saturday against second seed SMU.

Though UConn was the four seed and UCF the first, UConn was primed to win with a 2-0 lead in this game. Earlier in the season when UConn was in command of the top seed in the tournament, they held a 2-0 lead over SMU before dropping the game. Then after a loss to Tulsa, UConn fell to the fourth spot. I guess that’s why they call the two-goal lead the most dangerous lead in soccer.

Even with a two goal lead, any time you let a team outshoot you 33-15, you can’t expect to come away victorious.

This was an aggressive and physical game by both teams. There were eight total yellow cards in the match, with five against UCF and three on UConn. Both teams committed 12 fouls.

What’s next for the Huskies is unclear, as a bid into the NCAA tournament is still up in the air for them until conference tournaments are over. UCF and SMU will square off in the AAC championship in Orlando, Fl. Saturday at 7 p.m.


Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sean.janos@uconn.edu.