After a gut-wrenching 0-1 loss to the Seton Hall Pirates on Saturday, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team will look to get back into the win column during a midweek tilt with the University of Maine at Fort Kent Bengals on Wednesday.
Connecticut has tallied only one victory in their last seven contests after opening the season with two wins in their first three games. The team has been hit with the bad luck bug over the last few weeks as they’ve stepped up against tough opponents but have fallen just short of victory. Each of their two most recent losses have been in tight 1-0 contests that saw the Huskies play a thorough 90 minutes with strong defense, though the team could not capitalize on any of their opportunities on offense.
“I just told the guys in the locker room to keep their [heads] up. I’m sure they’re super disappointed, but this is the game that we play,” head coach Chris Gbandi said after his team’s most recent close defeat. “[When] you have opportunities and you don’t [take advantage of them] …you’re chasing [the other team] for the remainder of the game … We just have to find a way to get back in it … We still have an opportunity in the [Big East], so that’s our focus now.”
The Huskies (3-6-1) have looked better in their last few contests than they had to start the season. Last Wednesday, the team stole a win from the Providence Friars in the final minute of action when sophomore Scott Testori connected on a header that sailed over the goalie’s outstretched arm. Freshman Eli Conway and sophomore Matéo Leveque also found the back of the Friars’ net for Connecticut to help cement the 3-2 win. They followed up the victory with a strong showing against a formidable conference opponent in Seton Hall on Saturday, yielding only one goal to the Pirates’ offense. The team had plenty of opportunities to record points throughout the contest, but slim misses on their shot attempts mixed in with a few saves by the Seton Hall goalkeeper kept Connecticut off of the scoreboard.
UConn has been led on offense by two key players. One, graduate student Franz Pierrot, has been responsible for a majority of his team’s shot attempts. A transfer from Merrimack College in his first season as a Husky, Pierrot has attempted 31 shots this season, undoubtedly the highest total on the team. He’s been responsible for filling the void left by attacker Moussa Wade, one of Connecticut’s primary ball-handlers, who has been unavailable due to injury. In addition to shots, Pierrot currently leads the Huskies in goals (three), and shot-on-goal (14), and is second in points (seven). The Haiti native had two opportunities in front of the goal in the 58th and 59th minutes against Seton Hall. First, he missed his shot into the side of the Pirates’ netting, and second, he failed to cleanly receive a pass from Leveque across the face of the goal. The forward will aim to set the tone for his team’s offense against the Bengals.
The other key player conducting Connecticut’s offense has been the second-year standout Leveque. A member of the All-Big East Preseason team according to the league coaches’ preseason poll, Leveque has returned to his role as the team’s offensive facilitator. He leads UConn in points (nine) and assists (five), is second in shots (24) and shots-on-goal (nine), and is tied for second in goals scored (two). Leveque ended a personal cold streak when he scored for the first time in six games against Providence last Wednesday. He drilled a free kick through the piercing rain and down underneath the crossbar for the score. He’ll look to keep his recent hot streak going when he suits up against UMFK.
UMFK (10-1-0) has dominated small Division I opponents all season. After narrowly losing their season opener, the Bengals have scratched off 10 consecutive wins, resulting in the team currently leading the USCAA standings. Eight of their 10 wins have come with the team up multiple scores. As a result of their powerful performance, the Bengals have been crowned the best program in the USCAA in the league’s latest Power Rankings.
A smaller program, UMFK was not originally on UConn’s 2022 schedule but was added due to the cancellation of the team’s Sept. 20 game against Dartmouth. As they become a more elite and recognizable program, the team will hope to gain valuable experience regardless of the result of the out-of-conference contest. “This is a wonderful experience for everyone involved in terms of playing a high-quality team,” UMFK head coach Oniqueky Samuels said in an interview with WAGM-TV. “It is a perfect game to test exactly where we are and where we are going. Whatever the result is, [playing in this game] is a testament of what we are doing. I think we have top quality players on the field and [students] in the classroom … We are excited for it and looking forward to [Wednesday]. I think we are going to do well.”
Far and away the Bengals most electric offensive component this season has been sophomore Adil Iggoute. The forward has connected on a robust 15 goals this season, nine more than the second-best tally on the team and the second-highest total among all USCAA players. He’s attempted 32 shots this season, 21 more than the second-highest total on his team. He also leads the Bengals in shots-on-goal (25) and game-winning goals (five), and he’s been responsible for 32 points this season. He managed a goal on an assist from teammate Ajay Chin in the opening minutes of the second half in his team’s latest win, a 3-2 routing of Salem University. UMFK will hope that Iggoute’s elite performance will translate into the bright lights of Ray Reid Field.
Kick-off is set for Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. from Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Conn.