The UConn men’s soccer team suffered brutal losses in its opening Big East conference games in the 2021 season. After failing to notch equalizers after falling behind in their games against Butler, DePaul, St. John’s and Villanova, the Huskies were desperate to put the past behind them and take a lead they would not relinquish.
Similar to those prior games, the opening minutes were a defensive struggle for both squads. Ten minutes into the first half, Bjorn Nikolajewski put pressure on the Golden Eagles’ defense and goalkeeper Chandler Hallwood with a shot on goal, but Hallwood turned the sophomore’s attack away with a save. There was not a scoring opportunity for either team for the next twenty minutes, with Edrey Carceres of Marquette notching the first shot for the visiting Golden Eagles and Okem Chime attempting to build momentum, but to no avail. As UConn looked for someone to break through and help to protect home-field, Ben Awashie had the answer.
The sophomore from Ghana buried one in the back of the net for UConn in the 36th minute off a feed from Nikolajewski that was created by a corner kick from fellow underclassman Mateo Leveque. This was one of six corners for the Huskies on the night. Giancarlo Vaccaro tried to double the UConn lead before the halftime whistle, but Chandler bounced back with a save to keep his Marquette team down by a slim margin of 1-0 going into the final 45 minutes.
UConn looked hungry coming out of the locker room in the second half, as graduate student Felix Metlzer took a feed from Moussa Wade, but his shot went wide of the post to keep the Huskies’ lead margin at one. Beto Soto of Marquette looked to notch the equalizer as the Golden Eagles looked to battle back in a hostile environment, but the heroics of graduate student goalkeeper Jahmali Waite were there for the save. Soto had another opportunity to tie the game again 20 minutes later as the Huskies’ offensive momentum appeared to disappear, but again Waite was there to keep UConn in position to win at home.
After clinging onto a one-goal lead for the whole second half, the Huskies finally got an opportunity to add an insurance goal with ten minutes to go in the game. A foul from Marquette’s Alex Mirsberger set up Wade for UConn’s second goal of the game, and Wade delivered, knocking in the penalty shot to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead. The Huskies needed this goal because Marquette had an answer merely moments later.
The visiting Golden Eagles got a penalty kick of their own, and Lukas Sunesson found the back of the net to cut the Huskies’ lead to 2-1. Luckily for UConn, there was not enough time for Marquette to tie this one up, despite another shot on goal by Soto in the final minutes of the game.
This was only the third time this season UConn was able to break through with a second goal, winning all three matchups thus far. The defense for the Huskies stayed strong again — a consistent theme throughout the season — anchored by Waite and the backline. The unit has only given up seven goals in their first 10 games — a remarkable mark that has kept UConn within striking distance in all of their affairs — even though not all of these performances have translated to wins.
After falling short in conference play time after time, this home victory was just what the Huskies had been looking for, and they improved to 1-3-1 against their Big East foes and 5-4-1 on the season overall. The Golden Eagles fell to 2-3-1 in conference play and 5-6-1 overall. This was the first matchup between Marquette and UConn in almost a decade, with the Huskies taking five of seven in the all-time series, continuing their dominance over the Golden Eagles.
UConn looks to keep this momentum going into its next matchup, taking on Creighton Saturday night at Morrone before taking its talents on the road next week. Marquette returns home to bounce back against DePaul, also on Saturday night.
Kickoff for UConn’s matchup against the Creighton Bluejays is scheduled for 7 p.m. under the lights in Storrs.