In the first two games of the season, the UConn men’s soccer team outplayed their opponent, controlling play for much of the game and getting off more shots. Both games went to overtime, resulting in a 1-1 record for the Huskies.
The narrative figured to change against No. 9 Notre Dame, a much better team that would be tougher to command.
But it was more of the same on Saturday night, as UConn (1-2-0) came to play in a big nonconference match. The Huskies looked like the better team throughout the night, dominating possession of the ball and outshooting the Irish 10-4. However, UConn couldn’t find the back of the net once again.
“It’s inexcusable for us to lose that game,” UConn head coach Ray Reid said. “We’re probably the better team on the night, one mistake and it’s over… I’m proud of how we competed and played, I thought we played well. But we’re in the business of winning and now these guys gotta learn how to win or they’re gonna be some real failures.”
The game was scoreless until the 84th minute when Notre Dame senior Jeff Farina scored the game-winner. On a cross to the back post, sophomore Jack Casey sent a pass back to Farina, who was waiting near the penalty area and finished it past UConn goalkeeper Scott Levene.
“It’s not acceptable to let up goals, especially late in games” Levene said. “But I thought we were the better team on the night, in the end we have to learn how to win.”
Despite not being able to come away with a victory, the Huskies looked extremely promising. Injuries to forward Dayonn Harris and center defender Jacob Hauser-Ramsey left opportunities for two freshmen, Austin DaSilva and Blaise N’Gague, and both rookies excelled in the spotlight.
DaSilva was a target for Huskies’ crosses into the box all night, leading UConn with four shots including a chance to tie the game with one minute left that was headed just wide. N’Gague, a starting midfielder normally, was asked to play the game at center back to fill in for Hauser-Ramsey. The freshman from France didn’t miss a beat, helping to keep a dangerous Notre Dame attack at bay for most of the game.
“DaSilva’s gotta do better in the box, but he’s going to be a handful,” Reid said. “And Blaise might have been the best player on the field playing center back tonight… I’m happy with the (new) guys and the mentality, we’re learning how to win and we’re battling and we’re playing well. We just gotta continue to sustain this mentality and we’ll be alright.”
Notre Dame focused on locking down Abdou Mbacke Thiam, as the forward and leading goal scorer of last year’s team didn’t get a shot off for UConn. Thiam’s ability to draw attention from the defense opened the door for young players like DaSilva, Niko Petridis and Nicolas Apostol on the offensive end.
Petridis had two shots and led several runs down the right side, while Apostol nearly scored the first goal of his collegiate career. The freshman subbed in during the second half and almost immediately received a cross from Josh Burnett. Apostol took a one-time shot and forced Notre Dame goalkeeper Chris Hubbard to make a diving save to keep UConn off the scoreboard.
“I thought we played well, we dominated most of the game and like Coach said we just have to learn how to win now,” Petridis said. “We gotta put the ball in the back of the net early, put the pressure on the other team instead of keeping the pressure on us. It’s a disappointing result, but at the same time I’m very happy with the team’s performance, we’re only moving forward from here.”
Other UConn standouts from the game included Burnett’s composure controlling the middle of the field and defender Dylan Greenberg making several runs up the left sideline. However, all 12 Huskies that saw significant minutes in the game had good performances.
“The guys played very well. To be honest with you, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy that didn’t play well,” Reid said. “That’s like the third straight game I can say that.”
It’s a disappointing result for a Huskies team hungry for victories. But UConn seems to be taking it in stride, looking to build off Saturday night to prepare for Georgetown next weekend.
“I think there’s a lot of positives,” Levene said. “I know we just lost, but we have not had this many chances in the opening three games in my five years here. I don’t think our defense has been this solid in my five years here. So there are a lot of positives.”
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.