The University of Connecticut men’s soccer team was back in action Friday night in the hopes of starting their season 2-0-0 in front of an electric home crowd. What they got instead can only be written down as “slightly disappointing.†”
Goal Patrol was in it right from the start. When the starting lineups were announced – albeit with some technical difficulties (the voice of the PA cut out from the stadium’s sound system while naming several players) – the fans were right there, cheering and applauding for each player from the goalkeeper to the forwards.
Eight minutes into the contest, sophomore Giancarlo Vaccaro had a prime opportunity to give the Huskies another early goal, but his shot missed just to the left and the teams continued to play a scoreless game.
Five minutes later, following a yellow card on sophomore Thomas Decottignies, the Rams managed to capitalize off a good corner kick as Isak Oystese buried a header past graduate student Jahmali Waite and into the net to give the Rams a 1-0 advantage. It was not the start the Huskies wanted, but they still had several opportunities left to tie this game up.
In the nineteenth minute, sophomore Moussa Wade was given a glorious opportunity to equalize the contest. Everyone in the stadium thought Wade had his first goal of the season, but his shot hit the crossbar and stayed out of the net. Freshman Bjorn Nikolajewski, who was able to spot the ball, had a great chance as well, but his header somehow did not go in. With goalkeeper Stefan Schmidt out of the picture, the Rams’ defense stepped up to deny a UConn goal.
Prior to the 30th minute, junior Ahdan Tait lobbed a beautiful pass over to freshman sensation Okem Chime to finish the play, but his attempts at scoring his third goal in two games was stopped by Schmidt. The Huskies almost let the Rams double their lead in the 41st minute, but before Oystese could collect his brace, Waite made an incredible diving save to keep the score at 1-0 in favor of the Rams.
The Huskies wanted to enter the half with a tied score, but shots by Mateo Leveque and Jayden Reid were denied by Schmidt, who picked up three saves in comparison to Waite’s one incredible save.
Like most of the game thus far, the Huskies and Rams played a very physical contest that ultimately led to a scuffle in the 58th minute of the game. That scuffle, which eventually was broken up with the help of UConn head coach Ray Reid, only managed to get two yellow cards, one for each team: senior Djimon Johnson for UConn and Kevin Castaneda for Rhode Island.
About four minutes later, freshman Maxwel De-Bodene got his first opportunity to tie the game up at one apiece, but the defense successfully managed to block his shot attempt before it could even get to Schmidt. That defensive play led to a back-and-forth affair of possession and keep away before De-Bodene got a chance to “redeem” his blocked shot.
Fresh off a yellow card, De-Bodene had the shot of a lifetime, about 10 feet out and a wide open field with only Schmidt to beat – but instead of going into the net, the ball somehow sailed beyond the net and netted into the stands just behind the Goal pPatrol.
In the 79thh minute, senior Dom Laws had a free kick shot that, with the right amount of distance and power, could have easily tied up the game. His shot got the distance, but it did not go into the net because Schmidt came through once again with yet another save that left the Goal Patrol groaning instead of cheering.
The second opportunity came six minutes later when Wade had the chance to be the equalizing hero once again. Like the previous chance with Laws, it very well looked like Wade’s shot was going to go into the net. It managed to get past Schmidt and got him to bend like Beckham, but instead of going into the net, it hit the goal post and ricocheted back onto the playing field.
Laws managed to get one more shot off a few minutes later, but his shot was spotted easily by Schmidt. Rhode Island did not extend their lead, as Oystese was denied another opportunity to get his brace and the Rams held on to beat the Huskies by a score of 1-0.
The Rams (2-1-0) had several chances to score throughout the game. They got four shots on goal and nine shots off in total while Schmidt played out of his mind in the process of garnering seven saves. Meanwhile, the Huskies had fifteen shots: 14 after the first goal of the game and despite getting seven of those shots on goal, they did not score.
Although he lost, Waite picked up three more saves on some incredible plays to bring his total up to six for the season. This was really a game of bad luck, incredible defense and extreme physicality. Tough challenges like Rhode Island are only going to mold this team into a very good one, despite what the current Big East projections say about the men’s soccer team.
Having gone to this game in person, it was so nice to see the stadium packed with fans and the Goal Patrol being as loud as ever. Like the defense and the physicality, the atmosphere played a critical part in this game. This is the stuff that was dearly missed during the last year’s fanless season and is going to have a huge impact on games in the future, such as contests against Creighton, Yale and Marquette. One should never take these amazing games and opportunities for granted again.
The Huskies (1-1-0) will be back in action on Saturday, Sept. 11, when they take on the Monmouth Hawks at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium at 7:00 p.m. The game can be accessed virtually via FloSports.