Welcome to the Pierrot show.
Coming into the night riding a four-game unbeaten streak, the UConn men’s soccer team kept up their pace against new NCAA Division I opponent Stonehill, winning 4-0, propelled by graduate student Frantz Pierrot’s two early scores.
Huskies head coach Chris Gbandi opted to switch up the Starting XI in this contest, putting 11 completely different players on the field for the opening kickoff than last seen in the team’s 1-0 win over DePaul on Saturday night. Gbandi has employed this strategy before, notably in the team’s 2-1 comeback win over Maine-Fort Kent earlier this year. He has emphasized in the past the importance of getting everyone on the team involved and playing when possible, and certainly took advantage of the opportunity against a team like Stonehill.
“I think the mentality of the group overall was good,” said Gbandi. “We train hard. Our second group is fit and ready to go. An opportunity presented itself today to play them and they showed why they are able to play. They’re a good group, they work hard, and they’ve earned it.”
The Skyhawks are one of Division I’s newest members, having joined the NEC this past spring. Any of the team’s current players, aside from transfers, had signed on expecting to play Division II soccer their whole careers, but now are playing at a higher level.
While Connecticut sent out a set of new starters based on last game, it’s important to note that the team was utilizing guys that have been key contributors all season, namely Preseason All-Big East Teamer Mateo Leveque, Pierrot, and star freshman Eli Conway.
It didn’t take long for the Huskies to get cooking. With the core trio providing a bulk of the offense, UConn peppered Stonehill for 11 shots in the first half. A great chance came off of an inside pass from Conway to Pierrot, who was a half-step behind it and missed his empty-net shot wide.
The graduate student would make the most of his opportunity soon after. Sophomore Greg MacLean made a nice run with the ball down the left sideline before he ripped a shot towards Skyhawk goalie Carlos Dias Neto. The ball deflected off of the keeper’s hands, popping right in front of a streaking Pierrot, who put away his fourth goal of the year to put the Huskies up 1-0.
While the Skyhawks were seemingly out of the whole game, they had a great opportunity to equalize the contest in the 33rd minute of play with a free kick. Shon Ryan fired in a shot that was saved by a diving, fully-extended Jayden Hibbert in net, getting enough of the ball to push it off of the post, keeping UConn in the lead.
With the Huskies continuing to add pressure to the Stonehill back line, it was only a matter of time before their next score. It came in the 37th minute, after Maxwel De-Bodene hit Pierrot down the right sideline on a perfect through pass. The team’s leading scorer took one touch to get behind the keeper, then rifled in his second goal of the night to double the lead.
“(Pierrot) was aggressive,” said Gbandi postgame. “I think in the first half our two strikers seemed more aggressive and seemed more willing to go forward. Anytime you can get a goal as a striker, it just gives you more confidence.”
It didn’t take long for UConn to pour it on. Less than 30 seconds of game time after Pierrot’s second goal, Conway added one of his own after receiving another through ball for a 1-on-1 opportunity with the goalie. He succeeded, shooting to his left, with the bouncing ball finding its way to the net to make the score 3-0 Huskies.
In the second half, Gbandi opted to take out both Conway and Pierrot, but UConn continued to score. The team’s goal of the half came by way of freshman Joey Saputo. Off of a corner kick, first-year Kwame Adu-Gyamfi took the ball short, dribbling down the baseline before crossing it to an open Saputo, who volleyed the ball in for the first goal of his collegiate career.
After Connecticut jumped out to a four-goal lead, Gbandi opted to substitute in some of his players that never get time on the field. Sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Briere earned his first collegiate minutes in net, and freshman defender Pablo Gonzales hit the pitch for the first time in his young career.
While more substitutions were made, the outcome of the game didn’t change, as UConn took home their seventh win of the season by way of 4-0. This is the team’s largest margin of victory of the year, previously winning games 2-0 and 3-1 in August and September, respectively.
With the win, the Huskies improve to 7-6-2 on the year and add to an impressive 5-1-1 stretch. With the Big East Championship in their sights, the team looks to solidify their top-six spot in the conference with games at St. John’s on Saturday night and at home against Georgetown on Wednesday.