The No. 15 UConn men’s soccer team remained undefeated at home in thrilling fashion, battling back from down one twice to defeat Vermont, 3-2, at Morrone Tuesday. Redshirt junior Dayonn Harris scored the game-winner in the final seconds, as the Huskies get their 10th win of the season.
With just 37 seconds remaining, senior Abdou Mbacke Thiam picked off a Vermont goal kick, chipping it over the goalie. The ball bounced, hit the crossbar and rebounded to Harris who finished it off before being swarmed by his teammates.
“This is the toughest group of kids in 22 years at UConn,” head coach Ray Reid said after the win. “On the down side, they’re playing with fire, and I don’t know if they’re mature enough to figure it out.”
UConn (10-2-2, 3-0-2 The American) has made a habit of playing from behind, and while they’ve repeatedly pulled off game-winning comebacks, the Huskies will need more start-to-finish focus moving forward into the postseason.
The Catamounts (10-7) struck first in the 11th minute. Vermont’s Trevor Colazzo lobbed an arching cross toward the far post, finding the head of Jon Bryant, who put it away in the right corner to give Vermont a 1-0 lead.
The rain started coming down heavily just a minute later, and the Huskies offense continued to be frustrated by the Catamount defense. Through the first 30 minutes of play, UConn did not record a shot, on goal or otherwise. Passing was sloppy, and Vermont was the far-more energized team off the ball.
“It’ll be much tougher [to come back] in the tournament against better teams,” Blaise N’Gague said on his team’s slow starts as of late. “They won’t give us a chance to come back. We need to figure it out, and lock it in on defense.”
The UConn defense showed some holes but stepped up when needed, holding Vermont to just a one goal lead. Typically, a coach would like to avoid defenders repeatedly making aggressive challenges deep in the zone. But the UConn back line used the slippery conditions to their advantage, sliding at the ball and beating wings to the punch. Robin Lapert, Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and Dylan Greenberg all had clutch one-on-one tackles to prevent shots on net.
Though the rain relented by the end of the half, the Huskies did not. The Huskies finally got their first shot in the 36th minute after being gifted a corner kick thanks to a Vermont defender error. However, the corner kick was low, and while Lapert was able to duck down and get a head on it, the ball sailed high over the Vermont goal.
With just eight seconds remaining in the half, UConn finally equalized. Thiam, who had been having an unusually quiet half, remained patient with the clock winding down. He crossed the ball into the box rather than shooting from distance, landing in a crowd of five players. Sophomore Blaise N’Gague won possession and got off a strong shot which deflected off a Vermont defender and bounced into the corner of the net, his first goal of the season.
It was certainly not their best half of soccer, so UConn was fortunate to steal a goal. On the other side, Vermont soundly won the first 44-plus minutes and sat staring at a 1-1 tie at the half.
It didn’t seem to affect them much, as the Catamounts retook the lead in the 56th minute on a goal from lead scorer Geo Alves. It was such a perfectly-timed run from Alves that he looked surely offsides, and a deep throw-in from Colazzo landed at his feet with no one between him and UConn keeper Austin Aviza. The lightning-quick Alves did the rest, cutting back to get Aviza off balance and shooting just over the top of him for his 10th goal of the season, reclaiming the lead for Vermont.
“Last year, if the other team scored first, we never scored,” Reid said. “This year, it’s like they want to gift teams a goal, and we’ll beat you 2-1.”
UConn responded once again, tying it at 2-2 in the 65th minute. Like all season along, the Harris-Thiam connection came through in a big moment. Harris placed an absolutely perfect cross into the box. The Vermont goalie leaped but was a few inches too short, as the ball tipped off his gloves, and as per usual, Thiam was in the right place waiting for the volley into the back of the net. That’s 12 goals for Thiam and five assists for Harris, both team-leading.
After a pair of big saves from Aviza and a goal-saving sliding challenge from Lapert, the match appeared destined for overtime. But just like the first half, in the final minute, the Huskies capitalized — and this time, on one of the wildest goals you’ll ever see.
In the waning seconds, a poor goal kick from the Vermont goalie settled at the feet of Thiam. Without hesitation, Thiam chipped a shot which initially appeared to be going in on its own as the Catamounts keeper scrambled back. However, the ball bounced and hit the crossbar, rebounding off the shoulder of the keeper and giving Harris a can’t-miss opportunity. He didn’t miss, and the Huskies walked off with a stunning 3-2 victory.
“I thought it was going in,” Harris said of Thiam’s initial chip shot. “I just made sure I had the follow-up and slotted it in. It was a great team effort to come back, and I’m proud of the guys for that.”
Next up for UConn is a match with massive implications, taking on SMU at home Saturday. The Mustangs (7-4-2, 3-1-1) currently sit at third in the AAC standings, and the game will have a major swing on conference tournament seeding, and Reid is well aware.
“We have not been in a game as large as this SMU game is in four years.”