Under the lights on Saturday night, the UConn men’s soccer team took on the University of South Florida Bulls in front of a sold-out crowd with hopes of extending their win streak to eight games. Although the Huskies outshot their opponents 8-3 and had a majority of possession, it was clinical finishing, or a lack thereof, that turned out to be the difference in this matchup.
Despite clearly outplaying their opponents throughout the match, UConn struggled when it came to finishing its chances in front of the goal. The Huskies’ first opportunity came in the 10th minute after defender Simen Olafsen delivered a long ball to Dylan Greenberg down the left wing. However, Greenberg’s ensuing cross was easily cleared away by a USF defender in the box.
Captain Jake Nerwinski earned UConn a free kick just outside the right corner of the box a mere five minutes later. Co-captain Kwame Awuah took the free kick and his shot seemed to find the back of the net based on the crowd’s ecstatic reaction and cheering, but in fact found the side netting and bounced behind the goal.
The Bulls would end up striking first in the 22nd minute as the Huskies’ defenders reacted slowly on a quickly taken free kick. Ricardo Gomez’s lobbed pass found Melvin Becket, whose header just barely got over the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Scott Levene. The USF goal broke UConn’s clean sheet streak, which was at five games and totaled over 470 minutes without conceding a goal.
“I mean we gave up one mistake and we lost,” Nerwinski said. “It’s kind of that simple. They had one chance and they scored. In the second half, I don’t even know if they had a shot. It’s upsetting that one mistake can ruin a game for you, but that’s how soccer is sometimes.”
The Huskies nearly answered back five minutes later, however, as an in-swinging cross by Awuah found forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam at the far post. Thiam met the ball in the air, but couldn’t put it away as his header landed just wide.
In the 64th minute, Thiam put in a beautiful cross, but USF’s goalie Spasoj Stefanovic had it covered and pushed it away. Freshman Niko Petridis had an open goal on the ensuing rebound but shanked his shot wide right. UConn continued to create goal scoring chances in the second half, with three corner kicks and several free kicks in dangerous areas, but just couldn’t find the equalizer.
“I think we just need to come up more clinical in the box,” Awuah said. “We had chances in the end, and we clearly outshot them, outplayed them. We just need to take our chances, be calm, and be patient and move the ball around efficiently.”
Despite a flurry of chances by the Huskies in the dying embers of the match, they just couldn’t get the ball past Stefanovic and ultimately fell to USF 1-0, ending their win streak at seven games. The loss brings the Huskies to 10-4-0 on the year and 3-1 in the American.
The loss against a conference foe like USF, especially at home, will sting quite a bit, but UConn’s win streak put them in a fantastic position in the conference standings and back in contention in the national polls. Furthermore, as long as their performances in the future are more similar to any of the seven wins prior to the loss against the Bulls, the Huskies should be more than fine. Clearly, it just wasn’t the UConn’s day, and the captains knew this and took a positive view on the result.
“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way,” Awuah said. “They had one shot, one goal in the first half, but we clearly dominated them and we had our chances. We held our own on defense other than that one goal. Now we just have to get back to the drawing board and continue playing the way we’ve been playing.”
Next up, the Huskies face an extremely tough non-conference opponent in the Boston College Eagles. The game will take place Tuesday night at Morrone Stadium and will be a true test as to whether or not UConn are contenders in the chase for a national championship.
Chris Hanna is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.