The University of Connecticut men’s soccer team will wrap up its four-game conference homestand this weekend as they take on the Creighton Blue Jays.
These two teams have met in the Men’s Soccer Tournament three times. UConn beat Creighton 2-0 in the 2000 College Cup championship game for its most recent title. In 2008, Creighton defeated UConn in overtime of a second-round match to advance to the quarterfinals. 2012 was the most painful for Huskies fans, as Creighton won 1-0 with 90 seconds left in regulation at Morrone to advance to the College Cup semifinals.
The Huskies (5-4-1, 1-3-1 Big East) picked up their first win in Big East conference play since 2012 on Wednesday when they beat the Marquette Golden Eagles 2-1. The Huskies will be entering Saturday’s contest with a lot of momentum as they not only have a win, but also the electric crowd of the goal patrol, behind them.
All the contributions paid off again for sophomore Moussa Wade, as his penalty kick in the 82nd minute — his second goal of the year — ended up being the difference in the game. Now up to a team-leading 25 shots on the season, Wade is the guy who can raise the stakes out front when he has the chance to do so.
Freshman Okem Chime picked up two shots in Wednesday’s affair, upping both his shots on the season to 17 and his chances of quickly finding the back of the net during a game into the 80th percentile. He’s itching for another goal after picking up three in his first three games, and he’ll have a great chance to do so against Creighton.
The rest of the forward group is pretty stacked as well. Sophomore Giancarlo Vaccaro, who had two shots on Wednesday, senior Dominic Laws (one goal) and freshman Scott Testori (one goal) bring the heat for the offense, and all three have been part of well-planned tactics by head coach Ray Reid.
Once again, UConn’s midfield was the biggest threat Marquette had to deal with throughout the game. Sophomore Ben Awashie picked up his first goal of the season after finishing off a great sequence set up by a Mateo Leveque corner kick. Leveque (one goal and two assists) has had an impressive start to his collegiate career, and he has proven to be a critical part of the Husky attack, consistently taking corners.
Let’s not forget about sophomore Jayden Reid either. His defining game was a masterclass against Yale, and his two goals and four assists have been a big part of the team’s offense so far this season. The midfield also knows how to bring the defense too, as junior captain Ahdan Tait and senior captain Felix Metzler always turn up the heat of the game with their intense and physical style of play.
On defense, Bjorn Nikolajewski had an incredible game, picking up his first career assist while coming up with several big plays to shut down Marquette’s opportunities for most of the night. Freshman Guillaume Vactor (one goal) and sophomore Josh Morgan played the entire match and came through with several defensive efforts as they limited the Golden Eagles to just seven shots.
Four of those shots managed to get on goal, but stopping them in their tracks was goaltender Jahmali Waite. Now with 25 saves on the year, Waite has proven himself not only as an outspoken leader on the field, but also as a juggernaut. He can take hits while continually making big save after big save.
Like the Huskies, the Blue Jays (4-6-1, 1-4-0 Big East) are coming off their first Big East win of the season against the Villanova Wildcats. Things were looking relatively bleak as it was a scoreless affair at the half, but four second-half goals helped to spur Creighton’s offense and deal Villanova their second conference loss of the season.
The Blue Jays are led by Diego Gutierrez, the Big East’s version of U.S. men’s national team star Ricardo Pepi. Gutierrez, who had two goals and an assist in the victory against Villanova, is tied for the conference lead with six goals on the season with Providence’s Brendan McSorley and Marquette’s Lukas Sunesson.
Freshman Manu Toledano has also been a nice piece for the Blue Jays this season. Toledano picked up two shots and banked home his fourth goal of the season. Like his goal totals, his 22 shots are second on the team behind Gutierrez. He knows how to weave past goaltenders, so UConn’s defense better be ready to shut him down.
Clearly, the Blue Jays have a dynamic duo up front like the Huskies, but what about the middle of the field? Senior Daniel Espeleta (one goal on 21 shots), senior Callum Watson (one assist), sophomore Landon Sloan, senior Alejandro Maillet (one goal) and sophomore Mark O’Neill have all been contributing both offensively and defensively just like UConn does, whether it’s setting up passes or shutting down the opposition.
On the defense, freshman Miguel Ventura, redshirt junior Cameron Briggs and senior Mitch Dobson bring the heat and do very well in terms of keeping their opposition off the score sheet. Their ability to create turnovers in the pocket is going to be something to keep an eye on throughout the contest.
Then there’s senior goaltender Paul Kruse. Kruse really knows how to deny the opposition a chance to score as he has made 49 saves. Ignore his 19 goals allowed for a second; his 49 saves in 11 games means he is making over four big stops a game while keeping his team in the match.
The first-ever regular season matchup between these two teams will kick off on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. from Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. The game can be viewed via FloSports with live stats from StatBroadcast.