Following a 1-1 draw with the Marquette Golden Eagles on Saturday, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team will look to return to the win column during a midweek tilt with the Villanova Wildcats on Wednesday.
Connecticut had won two out of their last three contests before Saturday’s tie. Following a five-game winless stretch earlier this season in which the Huskies were hit with the bad luck both on the pitch and health-wise, the team has responded strongly and has managed to tally a couple of wins over the recent weeks. The team has gone 2-1-1 in their last four games, outscoring their opponents 6-5 in the process. Their one loss, a 0-1 deficit to the Seton Hall Pirates, saw the team play a tough 90 minutes on defense to limit a strong Seton Hall offense. Despite the team’s middling record, Connecticut has done a great job of creating opportunities on offense. The team has simply been unable to take advantage of them.
“[I was] disappointed in the result, but happy with the performance” head coach Chris Gbandi said after the tie versus Marquette. “Going down a goal on the road, to fight back and … almost have a chance to win [the game] I think shows a lot of character and shows the character of the group. They’re willing to fight and not give in.”
The Huskies (4-6-2) had their ups and downs in their latest matchup with the Golden Bears, allowing their opponent to get off to quick starts in both halves, though the team made the necessary adjustments to hold Marquette’s attack in-check. After falling behind 0-1 on a score by Marquette’s Mitar Mitrovic, Connecticut rebounded with a breakaway in the 68th minute. Soren Ilsoe threaded a through ball to Okem Chime, who dribbled the ball to the front of the Golden Eagles’ net before dumping the ball back off to the trailing Ilsoe. His shot was deflected, though Scott Testori was to secure the rebound, tapping the ball back into the unguarded net and knotting the score at 1-1. The goal was Testori’s third of the season and would be the final point tallied by either side.
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 32 shots this season, six more than number two Mateo Leveque and 19 ahead of third-place Soren. 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 shot-on-goal (14), is tied for first in goals (three), and is tied for second in points (seven). Though he’s amongst his team’s leaders in most major offensive statistics, Pierrot has been on a bit of a personal cold streak as his last point came five contests ago versus Butler. The forward will aim to get back on track against the Wildcats.
The other key player for Connecticut’s offense has been the second-year standout Testori. After a solid freshman campaign, Testori has evolved over the course of this season to become one of the Huskies’ main attackers on offense. He is currently tied with Pierrot for the team lead in goals, and is also tied with his teammate for second in points. He’s attempted only nine shots on the campaign, though seven of those shots have been on-goal, meaning that he’s been ultraefficient in his shot placement. He’s recorded goals in two of the Huskies previous four games, as he also found the back of the net on Oct. 5 against Providence. He’ll look to continue his hot streak in his squad’s upcoming game.
Villanova (5-6-2), like the Huskies, have been a middling team during the regular season. The Wildcats were projected to finish 6th amongst the 11 Big East teams this season according to the Preseason Coaches’ Poll and have played relatively true to that estimate, as they currently sit in the No. 7 spot in the conference. The team is currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak, falling to Xavier, Butler, and Georgetown, respectively. The Wildcats found themselves down 3-0 at halftime, but goals from Balthi Saunders and Brendan Jones narrowed the deficit to one. The effort ultimately proved to be too little, too late, though the strong response was a positive takeaway for a team that had been struggling to put points on the board.
The Wildcats will be led by senior forward Lyam MacKinnon. A native of Lausanne, Switzerland, last season, MacKinnon produced the most goals by a Wildcat (eight) since Sean Sheridan produced the same amount in 2015. That year, he was also a perfect 5-of-5 on penalty kicks, including the one he scored in the first half against Vermont on Nov. 18 that was the difference in the Wildcats’ first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. As a result of his performance, he was named to the second team All-Big East. The forward leads his team in goals (five), shot attempts (34), and shots-on-goal (15), and is second on his team in points (11). He’ll look to lead his offense in what should be a tough road matchup against an evolving Huskies program.
Kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Higgins Soccer Complex in Villanova, Penn. The game can be streamed online using FloSports, with live updates provided by StatBroadcast.