After a 1-0 victory over Dartmouth last Tuesday, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team returned to Big East play in Chicago, looking for their first conference win of the season.
For the Huskies, that would mean scoring early and playing with physical defense. Mateo Leveque almost gave the offense a tremendous spark with a beautiful chance in the third minute of the game, but his shot missed to the left. Two minutes later, Dominic Laws got a chance of his own, but also missed to the left.
DePaul had a hot offense of its own, but capitalized on its first big opportunity of the game. In the eighth minute, Kristian Malinich sent off a pass to keep the ball inbounds. It sailed past everyone but Nathaniel Enriquez, who buried the header past goalie Jahmali Waite to give the Blue Demons a 1-0 advantage. It was the first goal of Enriquez’s collegiate career.
Despite the early concession, the Huskies’ offense remained strong throughout the next 25 minutes of play. Moussa Wade, who scored his first goal of the season against Dartmouth, had a superb chance to double his total, but his shot went over the top. Leveque tried to capitalize on his second shot of the game, but his shot went wide right in the 17th minute.
Adhan Tait was ready to pick up his first goal of the year a minute later, but DePaul goalie Ghandi Cruz read the shot the entire way and made the save to preserve the Blue Demons’ 1-0 lead. Cruz would make another big save eight minutes later when he had to turn down a shot by Leveque, his third of the game.
The Huskies were able to find the back of the net in the 32nd minute, as Guillaume Vactor picked up his first collegiate goal when he sent a shot past Cruz into the bottom right corner of the net. Leveque’s incredible pressure throughout the game led to him getting the assist, the second of his career.
Now tied at one, the Huskies carried their newfound momentum into halftime. Although they were not able to get a shot off, they were able to keep the contest in their favor as they limited DePaul to just one shot in the final five minutes of the half while making sure that they created as many chances as they could.
The Huskies led the shot battle 8-2 and kept it that way for five intense minutes where neither team was able to get the ball out of the midfield. At the 52nd minute mark, Scott Testori had a shot that he was willing to take, but it just went over the top and out of play.
Exactly one minute later, Laws got another great chance to put the Huskies out front, but his shot down low was saved by Cruz. Six minutes went by of continued back-and-forth action until DePaul’s David Gripman got a shot chance but missed it to the right.
From then on, it was a physical contest, with both teams picking up fouls and making substitutions to adjust their strategies for the second half. Through the thick of it, Wade had a shot that he could take to the twine of the net, but Cruz came up with the save once again.
Now up 11-3 in the shot battle, the Huskies were looking for a second goal to take their first lead of the game. Wade got another chance in the 70th minute to be the hero, but his shot failed to reach the goalie.
In the 73rd minute, the Huskies had a wonderful opportunity to break the stalemate. Giancarlo Vaccaro was able to get a shot off from close-range, but Cruz was able to make the save. Okem Chime was able to get the second chance opportunity, but his shot from a distance went out of play on the right side of the goal.
The Huskies had several chances to take the lead, but it was DePaul that applied the critical pressure and took advantage of a great chance. In the 80th minute, Omar Ramadan went down the sidelines and passed the ball to Charlie Clancy. Clancy took the shot, but it went off the goal post as Waite made an incredible diving save.
But instead of going out of play, the ball ricocheted back out front toward the center of the penalty box, where Marek Gonda finished off DePaul’s opportunity to give the Blue Demons the 2-1 advantage. It was Gonda’s fourth goal of the season.
Wade and Jayden Reid tried to find the second equalizer of the contest for the Huskies in the final ten minutes of action, but neither of their shots made it to the goal, and the Huskies lost this close contest 2-1.
The Blue Demons (5-2-0, 1-1-0 Big East) were playing from behind in most offensive categories, as they were outshot 16-6 and allowed UConn to take six corner kicks compared to their two. In the end, it was second chance opportunities that helped the Blue Demons come out on top.
Even without the win, the Husky offense continues to prove why they are one of the most dangerous in the conference. They may be 0-2 in Big East play, but one slip up by the opposing defense can lead to UConn finding the back of the net, regardless of how many chances they get. If they finish off their chances, they will be going on an offensive tear throughout the Big East.
The Huskies (4-3-0, 0-2-0 Big East) are back in action on Saturday, Oct. 2, when they take on an old Big East foe, the St. John’s Red Storm, at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. This game will kick off at 7 p.m. and can be viewed via FloSports, with live stats provided by Statbroadcast.