It was a beautiful night for soccer at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Saturday. As the UConn men’s soccer team kicked off its home conference slate against the Butler Bulldogs, a gorgeous sunset was visible over Hilltop Apartments.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, by the end of the game not such a beautiful sight was seen, as the Bulldogs dominated 90 minutes of play en route to their fifth win of the season, a 4-1 victory.
“I think it was deserved,” said UConn head coach Chris Gbandi postgame. “They wanted it a little more than us. For whatever reason, we just didn’t come out with the intensity we needed to. As a conference game, you’d think we’d come out ready to play and we just didn’t do it.”
Butler truly took advantage of their opportunities in this one, taking 11 shots, putting 10 on target and four of those in the net. The Bulldogs did a great job of finding a way behind the Huskies’ back line via through balls, giving themselves plenty of chances to attack all night. One of the things they did exceptionally well was spacing the field and finding the open man, not being afraid to cross the ball to a wide-open wing on the other side of the pitch. Especially on the defensive end, UConn looked outmatched.
The Bulldogs struck first somewhat early in this contest, capitalizing in the 20th minute. After a well-placed through ball found the foot of Tommy Visser, the midfielder was able to beat his defender and send in a hard cross to Palmer Ault, who headed the ball hard enough to slip out of the glove of UConn goalie Michael Stone.
It wasn’t long until Butler found the net another time, with the Bulldogs executing a perfect counterattack after a Mateo Leveque shot. Working their way down the field, DJ Hooks took a strong, low shot that was kick-saved by a sliding Stone. The ball popped out in no-man’s-land, finding the foot of Hooks. This time, he finished it to give the visitors an early 2-0 lead.
The dominant half wasn’t quite over for the Bulldogs, who capitalized yet again just before the end of the period off of another Ault header to make it a 3-0 game.
To the Huskies’ credit, they didn’t throw in the towel after halftime. This team came out of the break with a little more life, putting together five shots in the second half compared to just two in the first. The culmination of their newfound fire came in the 47th minute of the game.
With a defender on his back, forward Frantz Pierrot had a masterful touch on a ball in the air, bringing it to the ground and around the Bulldog behind him. The graduate student found freshman forward Eli Conway down the left side, who sent a bouncing cross into the six-yard box. The pass snuck by the Butler goalkeeper, putting Pierrot in a prime position to find the net, cutting the lead to two.
This give-and-go play was executed well by both Pierrot and Conway, and looked to give the Huskies some home momentum. It ended up firing up the Butler offense even more, as Ault drove down the field looking for the hat trick. He brought the ball in the box after receiving a nice through ball, but Nicholas Tomerius and Bjorn Nikolajewski were there with slide tackles to prevent a shot from happening. With both of the Husky defenders on the ground and Stone already anticipating a shot from Ault, the ball squirted out to Wilmer Cabrera Jr, who placed an open net goal for a 4-1 Butler lead, which would end up being the final score.
This was the third start in a row in net for Stone, who took over for Jayden Hibbert after the team’s blowout loss to Syracuse a few weeks ago. Stone allowed four goals, saving six for a save percentage of 60% on the night. His six saves is a season-high mark.
With the loss, Connecticut falls to 2-4-1 on the year, having not won since a 3-1 victory over NJIT on September 2nd. They have a week to figure out their defensive struggles and scoring woes, taking on Xavier on the road next Saturday night.
“I think Butler just wanted it a little bit more, so we just have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to get something out of (the loss),” said Gbandi. “We still have eight conference games left, so there’s no reason to put our heads down but we need to figure out a way to get some results, because tonight wasn’t good enough, so we need to do a better job.”