Following a 1-0 victory over the DePaul Blue Demons on Saturday that catapulted the team in the Big East standings, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team will look to extend their win streak on Wednesday against the Stonehill College Skyhawks.
Connecticut has won two straight contests and are 3-1-1 in their last five games, including wins over conference foes Providence, Villanova and DePaul. After spending a majority of the season near the bottom of the Big East, the Huskies’ recent success has seen the team jump all the way up to the fifth spot in the conference. For a team that has dealt with adversity all season long, their newfound success can be credited to an intense mindset and the tremendous trust the players have in each other and their gameplan.
“[When] you have opportunities and you don’t [take advantage of them, and] …you’re chasing points … We just have to find a way to get back in it,” head coach Chris Gbandi said after his team lost to the Seton Hall Pirates back on Oct. 8. At that time, the team had been struggling to pull ahead of their opponents despite playing strong defense and was moving in the wrong direction in the conference standings. “We still have an opportunity in the [Big East], so that’s our focus now.”
It was an opportunity to have, and it was one that Connecticut surely took. All season long, the Huskies (6-6-2) have done a great job creating opportunities on offense but have seen too few of their chances convert. As a result, the team has often found itself chasing points in down-to-the-wire contests and has routinely been on the losing end of neck-to-neck battles. The last few weeks have been a different story, with UConn claiming two consecutive victories via a 1-0 score.
In their latest win over the Blue Demons, Connecticut dominated their opponent from the opening kick. At the end of one half of action, the Husky offense had managed 13 shot attempts while the defense did not allow DePaul to manage a single look. UConn pulled ahead in the 24th minute when sophomore Okem Chime intercepted an errant pass by a Blue Demons defensemen. The forward recovered the ball in the DePaul goalbox and surrounded by defenders, he penetrated towards the left side of the goal before tapping his shot past Cruz and into the far-side of the net to give the Huskies the 1-0 edge. Connecticut dominated possession in the second half enroute to a decisive win.
Chime has become a go-to in UConn’s offense over recent weeks as the team deals with injuries to other members of their forward group. In his team’s first 10 games of the season, Chime attempted only six shots compared to seven attempts over his previous four contests. The only player to have appeared in all 14 of his squad’s games this season, Chime has embraced his reduced role after he led his team in goals scored and shots on goal as a first-year one season ago. Now averaging just over 32 minutes per contest, the second-year from London has still collected six points on three goals, the latter of which is tied for the team lead. In a match against UMFK on Oct. 12, Chime tied the game at one apiece in the 63rd minute, receiving an inside pass from Pierce Bateson to set up a 1-on-1 with goalie John Amoah. Chime took one touch to his right, then fired the shot into the back of the net. Later in the period, Ben Dukes crossed a pass in front of the goal where Chime headed the ball past the UMFK goalkeeper for his second score of the day, giving UConn a 2-1 edge that they would not squander. He’ll look to stay red-hot against the Skyhawks on Wednesday.
Another player that has taken a leap for the Huskies has been freshman forward Eli Conway. A native of Mount Olive, NJ, Conway was a regional All-American and a member of the All-State and All-County first teams during his final season of high school. In his inaugural campaign with Connecticut, the forward has tallied five points on two goals and one assist despite attempting just the eight-most shots on the team. Gbandi sent the freshman into the scoreless contest in the 75th minute against Villanova last week. Not a minute later, Conway crashed the goal on a shot by teammate Franz Pierrot, able to convert a score after the rebound was deflected by the Wildcats’ goalie. His performances against Villanova and DePaul over the last week have resulted in Conway being crowned Big East Freshman of the Week. Conway will look to take advantage of his opportunities when he takes the pitch versus Stonehill.
Stonehill (3-10-1) is in its first season as a NCAA Division I program, competing in the Northeast Conference. With a 1-4-1 record in NEC play, the Skyhawks are currently tied with Central Connecticut State University as the worst team in the conference. In their last contest, the Stonehill defense stepped up against the CCSU offense, holding the team scoreless, though the ‘Hawks were unable to convert on any of their opportunities around the goal. The team will head into Wednesday’s tilt against UConn in search of their first goal in three contests, as their last scores came from Bristol, Conn. native Jacob Woznicki, who scored twice in a 7-2 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson on Oct. 9.
Woznicki has been one of the few bright spots for a struggling Stonehill offense. Last season, he played in 17 games and started in 14, finishing second on the team with three goals. He also led the team in shots with 39 and had four games where he took four shots. The junior forward is the only Skyhawk to appear and start in all 14 of his squad’s games this season. In those 14 games, Woznicki has posted 14 points, 10 more than the second-highest total on the team, on seven goals. His 48 shot attempts also lead the next-best Stonehill player by a mile, as only three other players have recorded double-digit shot attempts, and none of those three have attempted more than 20 shots. Two of his goals have been game-winners for the Skyhawks, which is even more impressive considering the team has garnered just three wins. Stonehill will hope that their star junior can spark their offense against a superior Connecticut lineup.
Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Ray Reid Field at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Conn. The game can be streamed online using FloSports, with live updates provided by StatBroadcast.