On Friday night, the UConn men’s soccer team was seeking revenge for their season-ending loss to Tulsa in last year’s American Athletic Conference Semifinals. With a game-winning goal from birthday boy Niko Petridis, the Huskies got their payback while earning three crucial conference points in the process.
UConn (5-2-2, 2-0-0 the American) held a slight 8-7 advantage in shots on the night, but the Huskies took advantage on the counter attack and redshirt senior goalkeeper Scott Levene came up huge in key spots.
Tulsa (3-4-1, 1-1-0 the American) suffered their first loss in conference play. The Golden Hurricane have won each of the last three American titles but could not score on the UConn defense.
“I thought we played the first half on our back foot,” UConn Head Coach Ray Reid said. “But the second half, they stepped it up. They competed, they battled… it was like an NCAA playoff game.”
Petridis, celebrating his birthday on Friday night, scored in the 53rd minute after freshman Blaise N’Gague flicked a beautiful pass over a defender to set Petridis free. Running onto the ball near midfield, Petridis led a breakaway and beat Tulsa goalkeeper Marcel Da Silva on the near side.
“I was going in and Abdou (Mbacke Thiam) was making a good run in the middle, bringing the defenders away,” Petridis said. “I looked up and the goalie was cheating a little bit, and it was fortunate to go into the back of the net.”
This was the third consecutive game that Petridis has earned a point. The sophomore also scored in UConn’s first American game against Temple and recorded an assist on Abdou Mbacke Thiam’s game-winner versus Providence on Tuesday night. Petridis is now second on the team with two goals and six points this season.
In the beginning of the season, Petridis had been starting at outside midfielder. But recently, Reid has been keeping Petridis on the bench to start the game, and it appears to be working.
“Niko isn’t gonna like it, but the more he scores and gets assists, the more he’s gonna keep coming off the bench!” Reid said. “He’s an injection into the game… It’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes the game.”
Levene made three saves that night, including a point blank save in the 31st minute on Tulsa’s Kay Duit. Levene also came off his line to make a critical sliding stop with a minute left in the game to preserve the win for the Huskies.
UConn will play their fourth game in 10 days on Monday night, when No. 1 Maryland comes to Storrs for a tough matchup. The Terrapins are undefeated at 7-0-3 this season, averaging 1.9 goals and 15.7 shots per game.
“We’re gonna get tested on Monday night,” Reid said. “We’re gonna see who can play and not play… We’re going to go up a weight class.”
The Huskies have won three consecutive games and are undefeated in their last six. They sit atop the American standings at 2-0-0 and they are finally getting goal scoring from somebody other than Thiam. A nonconference game against a powerhouse opponent should prepare UConn for a couple conference road matches next up on the schedule.
“You’re seeing a pretty good team develop right in front of our eyes,” Reid said.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.