The University of Connecticut men’s soccer team travels up to Indianapolis this weekend to take on its second consecutive dog opponent and third of the season, the Butler Bulldogs.
The Huskies (3-1-0) are coming off a dominant performance against the Yale Bulldogs that saw them score four times, twice in each half. This spectacular effort was a great way to end their home stretch that included an overtime win and a shutout the Friday before classes began.
The man behind this spectacular performance on Tuesday was none other than sophomore Jayden Reid. In the best game of his career, Reid had three assists, one goal and one howling shot that nearly gave him a brace. Reid will carry that ice in his veins to Indianapolis in the hope of setting up dimes for some amazing goals.
In the process of putting Yale in the doghouse, three other distinguished players picked up their first goals of the year as well. Senior Dominic Laws, freshman Scott Testori and sophomore Giancarlo Vaccaro all scored spectacularly with some amazing celebrations to boot.
Those three have all been used in a forward formation that features the talents of freshman Okem Chime, whose three goals lead the team, and sophomore Moussa Wade, who was the only person not named Reid with an assist on Tuesday. Combine them, and you have a unit that will relentlessly pelt the opposition with shots heading in the goalkeeper’s direction. Out of the 13 shots they took on Tuesday, the five that went in on goal were shot by three forwards and two midfielders.
Transitioning over to midfielders, Reid, who will likely start on Saturday, is in great company with the balanced playmaking of junior captain Ahdan Tait, freshman Mateo Leveque and senior Djimon Johnson. Together, the midfield plays an essential role in making sure the opposition cannot make great plays and that their offense has multiple chances to score throughout the game.
On the defensive side, freshmen Bjorn Nikolajewski and Guillame Victor, in addition to sophomore Thomas Decottignies, played a physical game last time out and will look to take that into their contest against Butler, where their aggression is going to be let loose. It was their physicality that made the game look like a literal dogfight.
Then there’s goalkeeper Jahmali Waite. He’s the engine to this entire scheme and picked up a grand total of no saves on Tuesday because Yale had only one shot on goal. Regardless, Waite has been spectacular, as he picked up yet another clean sheet to go with his 11 saves on the year while allowing just one goal from their loss to Rhode Island. Look for him to continue playing out of his mind as the Huskies head into Big East play.
The Huskies’ first Big East opponent is a team that was not in the conference back in 2013 — the Butler Bulldogs. The Bulldogs (1-3-1) are coming off a brutal 1-0 loss to Wisconsin where they had five shots on goal, but Carter Abbott took one look at each one and said “no thank you.”
Butler has scored two goals so far, by junior forward Wilmer Cabrera Jr. and redshirt sophomore midfielder Tommy Visser. Both picked up their goals in a contest against the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers with Visser responsible for the game-winner in the second half.
Those guys have had some help in the scoring department, as their goals were set up by senior midfielder Jack Haywood, senior defenseman Louie Bulger and redshirt junior midfielder Jack Streberger. Each has one assist on the year, with Haywood getting the most chances with eight shots on goal.
Butler likes to play a 2-5-3 style of soccer. Let’s look at each part of that.
At the forward position, in addition to Cabrera Jr., there is freshman Henri Kumwenda, who has taken seven shots so far and is still looking for his first goal of the year. This is a relatively younger forward squadron and they can make a lot of noise when given the opportunity to do so from their midfielders.
The midfield is stacked like a bowl of dog treats. We’ve already mentioned Haywood, Streberger and Visser, but the midfield also has freshman Philip Halvorsen, freshman Quint Breitkreuz and graduate student Joel Harvey. Harvey can play both the midfield and the defensive positions, and he defines the team. Include senior Rico Hollencamp, and the Bulldogs use their many midfielders to play a defensive contest with their opposition. They let the opposition have their chances, but then strike with their two hounds, Cabrera Jr. and Kumwenda, once the other team is tired out.
In turn, the defensive backs are a critical aspect of this entire setup. Harvey is joined out back by junior Perrin Barnes and redshirt senior Rhys Myers. Barnes and Myers have played every minute of every game thus far, and it looks like that will not let up on Saturday. This unit knows how to impose its will on its opposition and can get in the minds of the attacking group.
They say defense wins championships, but goalkeeping is critical as well. Senior Gabriel Gjergji has started every game this season and has one clean sheet from Butler’s tie against Oakland. Along the way however, Gjergji has made 12 saves while conceding five goals and wants desperately to get back on track as the season progresses.
Butler averages 11 shots a game while getting 14 of its 55 shots overall on goal. Like Yale before them, the Huskies will have to play an incredibly physical dogfight. Butler has had 46 fouls, 10 yellow cards, and a red card this season, and those numbers will only go up as it gets into Big East play. If the Huskies can control the physical game (they have 53 fouls with seven yellow cards) as well as the shooting aspect (UConn has taken 16 shots a game), then they should be in line to go 1-0 in Big East play.
The first ever meeting between these two teams will kick off at 7:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 p.m. CDT) with access available through FloSports and live stats provided by StatBroadcast.