Under the lights of Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Saturday night, the UConn Huskies men’s soccer team took on the Temple Owls in the opening weekend of American Athletic Conference matches. It was a tough match throughout, but the Huskies made sure that they would start off conference play with a bang.
Captain Kwame Awuah received a nice through ball into the box from Alex Sanchez in the 27th minute, but Awuah’s ensuing shot was stopped by Temple’s goalkeeper, Alex Cagle. Four minutes later, winger Andrew Geres made a beautiful touch on the ball to get past his defender and passed the ball to Abdou Mbacke Thiam, who then turned and shot on his first touch, but the ball was deflected away. Sanchez had a chance of his own with six minutes left in the first half, but another block by the Temple defense kept the ball out of the net.
The Huskies have had a few slow starts to games offensively this season, and the lack of clinical finishing in the first half was evident again on Saturday night, with four shots on goal in the first half and no goals to show for it.
The Huskies would finally breakthrough in the 64th minute, however, as Thiam connected on an Awuah corner kick with a header that was just out of Cagle’s reach. The goal was Thiam’s team-leading sixth of the season and his fourth in the last three matches. The assist for Awuah brought him to six on the season, keeping him among the assists leaders nationwide.
“I just think it takes us time to get going (early in the season),” head coach Ray Reid said. “We had Abdou (Thiam) out for a while. We had Andrew Geres out for a while. We took that trip to Notre Dame and Georgetown to get us better and it helped us. And the guys are just starting to do the right things.”
Thiam agreed with his coach and added that his hard work results in the team success.
“I think I need to help the team and my job here is to score goals and I did it, and I am very happy for the team and for me too,” Thiam said. “I think it is amazing (to score so many goals recently) but I worked very hard to come back and the team helps me a lot. A lot of my success leads to the team’s success.”
Scott Levene made a number of good saves throughout the game to keep Temple off the board, including a one-on-one kick save on a shot by Matt Mahoney in the 55th minute. In the 73rd minute, Levene went full extension and made another fantastic save to stop a header by Temple’s most clinical scorer, Jorge Gomez Sanchez.
When asked about his big save, Levene jokingly replied, “Which one?” But his performance Saturday and in recent games has been no joke. He’s been a brick wall in net for the Huskies as of late and that was on display again in the Temple game.
In the last minute of the game, Temple earned a corner kick and sent Cagle forward for a chance to load the box and score, but to no avail, as the Huskies cleared the ball and clinched the 1-0 victory.
“It’s definitely important to get a win in your first conference game,” defender Simen Olafsen said. “It gives us a big confidence boost and now we are going to the next game (against Tulsa) with a lot of confidence and that means a lot for us.”
The win continues a stretch of UConn dominance over the Owls, as the Huskies remain undefeated against Temple in eight games played over the last four years. In fact, UConn has outscored the Owls 7-0 in the last three matchups.
“A win is a win. It’s not easy to beat them, they’re tough. We’ll take (the victory),” Reid said.
Next up, the Huskies will go on the road to Providence College for a midweek matchup that has been waiting two years to take place, as the two previously scheduled games have been rained out. With a three-game win streak on the line and loads of confidence going in, UConn will look to jump back into the national polls with a good performance on Wednesday against the Friars.
Christopher Hanna is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.