After receiving a perfect through pass that got him behind the defensive line, graduate student Frantz Pierrot felt a New Jersey Institute of Technology defender on him, but created enough separation to send an inside pass right to the foot of junior Moussa Wade.
Wade, in the optimal position to score, had everything planned out. Just outside the six yard box and with the opposing keeper on the other side of the goal, there was basically an empty net for him to help the Huskies take the lead.
Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.
Wade did end up scoring the goal, his second of the year, giving UConn an early 1-0 advantage. What happened after the play would end up being disastrous for the young star, as he fell to the ground in the middle of his celebration with a non-contact injury. He was removed from the game and didn’t return. At the time of writing, the nature of the injury is still unknown.
“We heard about Moussa here, we’re just trying to figure out what the situation is,” said UConn head coach Chris Gbandi.
While Wade didn’t return to the game, the Huskies were able to take care of business against the NJIT Highlanders, winning with a final score of 3-1.
The game started with a hot start for the Highlanders, who forced a corner kick just 30 seconds in. The cross was broken up by UConn goalie Jayden Hibbert, but the visiting team created plenty of other chances for themselves. For the first five minutes or so, everything was coming up NJIT. It was at this point that the Huskies were able to string together some great ball movement, working their way up the field to the opposition. It seemed inevitable that they would break through the net. Enter Wade’s goal, a one-touch gem, in the 15th minute.
While each team had their share of chances the rest of the first half, neither was able to convert. The start of the second half was similar to the first, with the Highlanders driving down the field early to force yet another corner kick. This time around, however, the story had a different ending. NJIT’s cross was again touched by Hibbert, but this time, he batted the ball down instead of catching it. His momentum took him far enough out of the net, giving the Highlanders a perfect opportunity to head the ball in the net to make it a tie game.
The home team was quick to strike back. After working their way down the pitch, the Huskies received a free kick by way of a Highlander handball. A perfect cross from Big East Freshman of the Year Mateo Leveque found the head of Soren Ilsoe, who blasted the ball into the net for his first goal of the season.
With time winding down, the Highlanders began to step up their intensity, putting more pressure on the UConn defense. At one point, Husky defender Jack Loura had to save an open-net goal with his body to silence the NJIT attack. While there was plenty of strong offense, there was also physicality that came with it.
A total of five yellow cards were issued to the visiting team, with three coming within four minutes of each other. Head referee Jose Martin Arana got plenty of work in handing out cards, as the Highlanders kept tackling the Huskies from behind. At one point, an argument broke out between the two sides, leading Arana to have to break up the quarrel.
The fast-paced, aggressive play continued until there were five minutes left to play, when Leveque worked his way to the corner of the field. Instead of crossing it, the midfielder dribbled in towards the net, firing a shot low enough to sneak under NJIT keeper Samuel Reisgys’ gloves. With that goal as the nail in the coffin, UConn was able to walk away with a 3-1 victory.
“I thought we did pretty well,” Gbandi said postgame. “I thought at times we had some good stuff, had a lot of opportunities, just weren’t able to capitalize (earlier) to put the game away, but you give a lot of credit to NJIT for a hard fought game… I’m proud of the guys, they work hard, the effort is there.”
While NJIT was a scrappy opponent for UConn, the Huskies really outmatched their foe throughout the night. UConn put up 21 total shots, with nine of them on target. Meanwhile, the Highlanders had seven shots total, only three on target. NJIT had their opportunities, forcing 11 corners to UConn’s four, but the Huskies set themselves up better for victory with their constant attack. There were plenty of crosses, solid looks and even a few 1v1 opportunities.
The win puts UConn at 2-1-0 on the season, winners of its last two. The Highlanders, meanwhile, fall to 1-1-1 with the loss. It’s a quick turnaround for Gbandi and crew, as the Huskies host Syracuse (2-0-1) at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Monday, Sept. 5. Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m.