Beginning the final homestand that the team will ever play at Morrone Stadium, the UConn men’s soccer team defeated Boston College, 3-2, on a chilly Tuesday night in Storrs. Here’s how it happened.
Unbeaten at Morrone
With construction set to begin on UConn’s brand-new soccer stadium, this is officially the farewell season for Morrone Stadium. It’s been a fitting goodbye, as the Huskies have yet to lose a game at home all season.
With the win over BC, UConn moves to 7-0-1 this year at Morrone, with the sole tie back on Sept. 22 against USF. The cold weather made for more open seats than usual, but the Huskies still had plenty of supporters Tuesday night, and they didn’t disappoint.
Last time out against UCF, the Huskies couldn’t manage a single goal in 110 minutes of play, but thanks to a strong defensive effort, they didn’t concede any either. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that the team was eager to find the back of the net on Tuesday.
But on the cold, damp night, UConn got off to a slower start than it would’ve liked. The Huskies got off only two shots through the first 28 minutes, and BC appeared the more threatening team.
That changed in the 29th minute, thanks to some heads-up soccer from sophomore Josh Burnett and junior Abdou Mbacke Thiam. UConn was awarded a free kick at around midfield on an overzealous challenge from an Eagles defender. While the BC players stood around and slowly walked back, Burnett quickly stepped up to the spot, lobbed the free kick over the surprised defenders, and Thiam raced to it, leaving only the goalie to beat. Before the defense could even react, Burnett and Thiam had given UConn a 1-0 lead, which they would not relinquish.
“I got fouled and I saw the ball right in front of me with the defender backing away,” said Burnett. “Abdou just pointed where he wanted the ball, once I played it I knew he was going to finish it.”
Burnett’s big night
Burnett’s quick thinking got the Huskies on the board, but he was far from done.
With five minutes left in the half, that same duo produced another stunning goal. Thiam found the ball on the left sideline about 40 yards from the BC goal, pivoted and blasted a cross into the far side of the box. Though it initially seemed ambitious, Thiam delivered an absolute dime to Burnett, who took a touch and beat the keeper, handing UConn a 2-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, fellow sophomore Blaise N’Gague found Burnett cutting toward the BC box. Burnett dribbled in and stopped on a dime, breaking the ankles of the nearest defender and clearing the path for Burnett’s second goal of the night.
Aviza to the rescue
It was an impressive offensive showing for UConn, but an unusually-shaky one for the defense. In recent weeks, the Huskies have established themselves as one of the most impenetrable defenses in the country. Entering the game, UConn had allowed just four goals in its past seven games combined, with four shutouts and a 5-0-2 record during that span.
Over the weekend, standout defender junior Jacob Hauser-Ramsey was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the third-straight week. But it was the man behind him who saved the Huskies on Tuesday night.
Thanks to UConn’s stifling defense, junior goalkeeper Austin Aviza is usually only tested rarely. That was not the case against BC, as the Eagles took 13 shots, many of which required difficult saves to keep the Eagles off the board.
In the 31st minute with UConn leading 1-0, BC was awarded a penalty shot, taken by Simon Enstrom. Aviza guessed right, diving to his right and getting enough of the ball with his fully-extended hand to redirect the ball into the post, and ricocheting to safety.
“Big-time performance from Austin,” said UConn head coach Ray Reid after the win. “The penalty kick changed the game. He’s getting better and better every game.”
Ten minutes later, a rocket of shot from BC forced Aviza to make a leaping save, pushing the ball over the crossbar. In the 73rd minute, he alertly stuffed a shot off a long throw-in. And in the chaotic final minutes as the Huskies clung to a 3-2 lead, Aviza made a couple stops to secure the victory.