With emotions running high and tempers flaring, the UConn men’s soccer team opened up American Athletic Conference play with a 2-2 draw against visiting South Florida.
The Huskies (4-2-1, 0-0-1 The American) have yet to take a loss at home, though they would’ve preferred a victory in what was a winnable game. UConn spoiled plenty of chances, but also rebounded nicely to answer a late USF goal.
“I thought our guys were very resilient,” head coach Ray Reid said after the game. “They’ve shown great resiliency all year to come back. I thought we were a bit unfortunate in the two overtimes not to win the game.”
For the third-straight game, the Dayonn Harris-Abdou Mbacke Thiam combination yielded a goal, though not in the orthodox way. In minute seven, Harris dribbled up the left side and hooked a pass into the box. Thiam chased it but decided to let it go by, effectively dummying it so that the goalie could not commit and Harris’ shot dribbled into the right corner. It’s the first career goal for Harris, and the unofficial assist to Thiam.
The lead didn’t last long, as the Bulls (2-5-1, 0-0-1) tied it up in the 11th minute. A pair of tough penalties on the Huskies, much to the frustration of head coach Ray Reid, handed USF a flurry of opportunities. They finally capitalized on a corner kick from junior Alex Zis to Kori Cupid, who shot an arrow into the back of the net to tie it at 1-1.
After a busy first 10, it was a quiet next 25 until things got heated in the 35th minute. First, the Bulls nearly cashed on a pretty backheel pass, but the shot was stuffed by UConn goalie Austin Aviza. A minute later, a USF player was injured and tempers flared on their bench, leading to a yellow card for Stephen Rudderham. On the resulting free kick, the Huskies came within inches of recapturing the lead on a chaotic sequence in the USF box, but to no avail.
The teams went into the half at 1-1, with USF holding a slim 4-2 advantage in shots. It was a physical and frustrating first half for both teams, with players and coaches alike visibly agitatedat the officiating throughout.
In the 60th minute, an embarrassing error by USF keeper Harrison Devenish-Meares nearly gave the Huskies the lead. Devenish-Meares tossed the ball up to punt it but hesitated and caught it again; an illegal hand ball. That gave UConn a free kick on the line of the Bulls’ box, but the kick went right into the USF wall.
It was a choppy second half, frequently interrupted by fouls, injuries, and players getting into players’ faces. Numerous USF players were noticeably irritated by the raucous student section and a vocal crowd of over 4,000 fans. In addition to the one in the first half, two more USF players were shown a yellow in the second.
The Huskies had a pair of golden scoring chances in the 75th minute, but again couldn’t find the net. Sophomore Blaise N’Gague rocketed a shot that looked like a sure goal but was stopped by an impressive diving save. Seconds later, the ball found Thiam who attempted to lift it over the goalie, but instead lifted it over the entire goal.
In the 75th minute, the Huskies wished they had cashed in on those opportunities. USF’s Emilio Ycaza intercepted a pass just outside the UConn box. He half-volleyed it and casually lobbed it over Avika into the back of the net. It was a stunning goal, and it gave the Bulls a 2-1 lead.
However, it was another short-lived lead as UConn responded near-instantly— and you can probably guess who. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The ball found Harris on the right side, he crossed it in, and Thiam took care of the rest, volleying it home to tie the game at two apiece.
“I thought guys really it gave it their all,” Reid said. “A lot of guys put a lot of mileage in tonight.”
For the second-straight game, regulation was not enough and the Huskies headed to overtime.
This time around, however, even double overtime could not separate the two teams, and the game wrapped up in a 2-2 draw. There were a handful of opportunities for each team, but neither team could find the finishing blow.
After three straight games at home, the Huskies now head on the road for games against Providence (4-4-1) and conference foe Memphis (4-2-2).
“We’ll be ready,” Reid said. “These guys have great character and are real workers. The two road games we’ve played were two of the top five teams in the country, so hopefully that’ll prepare us for the games coming up.”