As popular character from NBC’s “The Office,” Michael Scott, once said, “Well, well, well, how the turn tables.”
After starting the season at a less-than-mediocre 2-5-1, the UConn men’s soccer team has suddenly rejuvenated their season, bursting through in the second half with a 1-0 victory against Villanova on Wednesday afternoon. This win puts the Huskies at 3-1-1 over their last five games, and gives the team its first road win in five tries this year.
The game started out with a slow first half. The Wildcats had an early effort, with a forward running down the side of the box without room to cut in. Instead of taking his odds at the net, the attacker passed the ball on the ground just outside of the six-yard box — to nobody. UConn was able to clear the ball with ease and continue play.
A real chance at a goal for each team happened early on in the first half, when free kicks were granted for both sides just outside the 18-yard box in similar spots on their respective halves. While both UConn’s Soren Ilsoe and Villanova’s Lyam Mackinnon fired their shots past the keeper, both landed just wide of the far post.
The Wildcats had a few more opportunities later on in the period with back-to-back crosses in UConn territory, but one was struck wide and the other headed right to keeper Michael Stone, and the squads would head into halftime tied at zero apiece. At the break, each team had registered just two shots each.
This trend of a lack of shots would not continue in the second half, as both UConn and Villanova came out of their locker rooms with more intensity on offense. UConn was moving the ball around well early on, highlighted by a cross to Scott Testori, who headed the ball just outside of the far post.
The Wildcats had a few, but not as many chances as well. Off the ball, Mackinnon found himself charging into the box, but had pressure on him behind. Sensing his defender, Mackinnon slowed his pace, making contact with the defender and falling to the ground. The head referee saw through the attempt to earn a penalty kick, and instead gave Mackinnon a yellow card for unsporting.
Testori would get another great shot at the goal later on in the half, as a through ball from Ilsoe connected with the sophomore, who sent it just wide of the post in the 60th minute of play.
Wanting some fresh legs in the game, Huskies head coach Chris Gbandi sent in freshman Eli Conway in the 75th minute. Not a minute later, graduate student Frantz Pierrot sent in a hard shot on the ground from outside of the 18-yard box, which sent Wildcat goalie Kent Dickey to the ground with the save. However, the ball popped out of Dickey’s gloves, which made it all too easy for Conway, who was crashing the shot, to score and put the Huskies up 1-0. This would end up being the final score.
Villanova had its chances to equalize, including a last-minute effort off a throw-in that Stone snagged. In reality, it was UConn leading the pack in the second half, tallying an astonishing 13 shots to Villanova’s seven. Credit is due to Stone, who had a terrific clean sheet, racking up six saves in the win.
It is worth noting that despite it being an away game, the Huskies received a bit of a home-field feel to the contest in the second half. The UConn women’s soccer team made an appearance in the stands by the time of the second kick-off, having just arrived in Pennsylvania early. They are set to play the Wildcats Thursday, and were loud and supportive of their male counterparts.
With the win, UConn (5-6-2, 2-3-2 Big East) leapfrogs Villanova (5-7-2, 2-5-1 Big East) in the conference standings. The Huskies look to do more conference damage when they return home this weekend in a night matchup with DePaul on Saturday. The game will start at 7 p.m. at Morrone Stadium in Storrs.