The UConn men’s soccer team gathered Monday to watch the selection show ahead of the upcoming NCAA Tournament. After a superb regular season in which they continuously climbed the national rankings, the Huskies lost three of their last four games, leaving their postseason status in doubt.
The team anxiously watched and waited on Monday as the field of 48 was revealed. They waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, in the very last at-large bid of the show, UConn’s name was read aloud.
“I’m so happy for the whole team, the coaches and for UConn,” said senior Abdou Mbacke Thiam, without whom the Huskies probably would not be in the tournament. “Looking back on what we’ve done the past few months, I think we deserve to be in.”
UConn (11-5-2, 3-2-2 The American) not only earned a spot in the tournament, but also the right to host its first round opponent. That opponent is Rhode Island (15-4, 5-3 Atlantic 10), which was scheduled to play the Huskies earlier this season, but the game was cancelled due to weather.
“This is it. It’s a one-game season,” said redshirt senior and star defender Dylan Greenberg. “This is what we’ve been waiting for the whole season, to get into the NCAA Tournament. It’s a pleasure, it’s a blessing and I’m excited to play on Thursday.”
Since preliminary construction has already begun on UConn’s new soccer facilities, the game will not be held on campus at Morrone Stadium, but rather at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Free tickets and transportation are being offered to all UConn students.
Originally scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, the game has since been moved up to 1 p.m. due to inclement weather.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Huskies, who, during a 10-game unbeaten streak, seemed like the favorite to win the conference and a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament. But two straight losses to finish the regular season, the second of which to a subpar Tulsa team, brought the team crashing back to earth.
In the American Athletic Conference tournament, the Huskies got a must-win victory over Temple in the opening round before losing a heartbreaker in double overtime to No. 7 UCF in the semifinals. UConn blew a 2-0 halftime lead and surrendered the game-winning goal with just 15 seconds remaining, albeit to a talented UCF team.
Though UConn has missed the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, it has now earned a bid in 18 of the last 21 seasons, all of which have been under head coach Ray Reid.
“We’ve enjoyed the whole group big time this year; they’re a great group of guys,” Reid said after the selection show. “We’re excited to play a very good Rhode Island team, and, hopefully, we get good preparation in this week and are ready to go.”
Rhode Island received an automatic bid after winning the Atlantic 10 championship. Including postseason, the Rams have won nine of their last 11 matches and went 10-1 this season against nonconference opponents. Senior midfielder Dominik Richter is the man to watch for URI, leading the team in points with nine goals and five assists.
On the UConn side of things, Thiam is top-15 in the country with 13 goals, and is tied atop the team with redshirt junior Dayonn Harris with six assists. That duo has carried the Huskies’ offense through the latter part of the season, and they’ll be counted on to produce on Thursday.
The winner of Thursday’s match will advance to take on Indiana (16-2), the No. 2 team in the country. The Huskies have some experience against the Hoosiers this season, falling 1-0 on Sept. 2 despite outplaying Indiana for much of the match.
First, UConn has to go through Rhode Island, kicking off at 1 p.m. on Thursday at Rentschler Field. It’s win-or-go-home time for the Huskies.