On an emotional night at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium, the UConn men’s soccer team honored its former coach’s legacy to the best of its abilities Saturday night, winning 1-0 against the University of Rhode Island.
Morrone died Wednesday at the age of 79.
“It’s been a tough week,” head coach Ray Reid said. “[Morrone] built that stadium with his bare hands… He’s gone but he will not be forgotten, not as long as I’m the head coach here.”
After honoring Morrone’s passing with a pregame moment of silence, Fredrik Jonsson’s goal in 21st minute propelled the Huskies to their third consecutive win. After starting the season with three 0-0 draws, UConn has outscored their opponents 5-2 during their three-game win streak.
The game was the Huskies’ first home game since the stadium’s namesake passed away Wednesday night. Morrone coached the Huskies for 28 seasons, winning 358 games, including a national championship in 1981.
Coaches and staff wore black armbands with Morrone’s initials, and players wore a circular patch above the heart to honor the coach that helped transform UConn into a soccer powerhouse.
“He’s an icon,” Reid said of Morrone. “He was Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma before there was a Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma at this place.”
In his last appearance at the stadium that bears his name, Morrone watched the Huskies score two goals late in the second half Sunday, Sept. 13 against UC Santa Barbara for their second win of the season. Players greeted Morrone after the game.
“Obviously the Santa Barbara win was nice to send him off,” UConn goalkeeper Scott Levene said. “And in his honor to get another to get another win with a moment of silence and all the commotion, it was nice to pay him back for all he’s done against a good opponent.”
Morrone’s impact on the Huskies spanned more than just on the pitch. During his time as coach, he was influential in forming the “Friends of Soccer” group that was crucial in building the current UConn soccer facility. He also was a major factor in creating youth soccer programs in Connecticut.
“He started the Connecticut Junior Soccer [Association], he started the Mansfield Youth Soccer Assocation, and he was heavily involved in the National Soccer Coaches [Association of America] which right now has like 30,000 coaches of all levels,” Reid said.
Following his retirement in 1996, Morrone began a new career at UConn as tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, a position he served until retiring in the summer of 2014. Morrone also helped land the single largest donation in the history of UConn Athletics – an $8 million donation from Tony Rizza, one of his former players.
After a mentally taxing week following Morrone’s death, the team has started to come into its own. As this young team gains more and more experience with one another, its potential becomes more evident than ever.
“We’re making progress. I think people are starting to see that we have a pretty good group here, we’re just a little bit young, but we’re hanging in there right now.”