On Friday evening, under the bright lights of Joseph J. Morrone Stadium at the Rizza Performance Center in Storrs, the UConn men’s soccer team is set to host the Sharks of Long Island University in search of their second-straight victory following their dominant performance in the season opener.
UConn showed no mercy against Holy Cross last Sunday, treating the fans that packed the Morrone bleachers to a lopsided 4-0 victory that included contributions on both sides of the ball. In total, six Huskies were credited with points for either scoring or assisting a score in the contest. Leading the way were graduate student Adil Iggoute and junior Scott Testori, who each tallied three points after scoring one goal and adding one assist apiece versus HC. It was the sophomores who did the rest of the heavy lifting for Connecticut, as Pierce Bateson and Eli Conway were responsible for the team’s other two goals, with fellow sophomores Christian Dionne and Nicolas Tomerius also contributing an assist each.
The Huskies were able to achieve a clean sheet due to a combination of the offense taking control of the game and the team’s defense applying constant pressure on the HC ball handlers. Headlined on defense by senior captain Guillaume Vacter, UConn’s defense allowed just three shot attempts to HC throughout the entirety of the contest. Both Jayden Hibbert and Clayton Knibbs had an easy time manning the Connecticut goal, as the former tallied two saves and the latter recorded one of his own.
The Sharks will come to Storrs having played to a 1-1 record in the early going. After claiming a 2-1 victory over Stony Brook on Aug. 24, LIU yielded to Monmouth on Monday via a 3-1 final. Juniors Ben Assane Fall and Alan Martinez and sophomore Matthew Salinas have all been responsible for scoring one of the Sharks’ three goals through their initial two contests. In addition, senior Emil Jaaskelainen has been responsible for two assists. This gives LIU four players who are tied for the team lead in points with two each. Graduate student Ethan Homler and junior Robert Winkler make up the team’s remaining point-scorers as both have an assist, giving each one point.
Long Island’s first victory of the season was a storybook telling for Assane Fall, who was playing in his first game since tearing his ACL last September. It was the junior who headed in what proved to be the game-winning shot in the 74th minute of action. The team didn’t have the same spark in their subsequent contest against Monmouth. Despite taking an early lead thanks to a goal from Martinez, the LIU defense allowed the opponent three scores while the offense failed to make a comeback.
One player to keep an eye on for Connecticut will be forward Moussa Wade. A senior from Dakar, Senegal, Wade was forced to miss a majority of last season due to injury. In his first game back this season, the senior was limited to 41 minutes of action in what amounted to an uncompetitive matchup against HC given his team’s dominant lead. However, few would be surprised to see Wade remain on the pitch in his team’s more high-leverage situations. In just two games last season, Wade had already compiled four points before he was ruled out for the remainder of the season. Just one year before that, in 2021, the forward tallied 10 points for the Huskies and was amongst the team’s top offensive contributors. How he progresses throughout this season will be an important development for head coach Chris Gbandi.
Taking the other side of the field will be Jaaskelainen, who hails from Bolton, England. Prior to the season beginning, the forward was selected as the fifth best collegiate soccer player in the country by Top Drawer Soccer and was later named to the Hermann Trophy preseason, which is awarded annually by the Missouri Athletic Club and is the nation’s highest individual honor. The award recognizes the National Player of the Year as determined by the voting of Division I coaches who are members of United Soccer Coaches. Last season, the senior’s play landed him on the United Soccer Coaches All-Northeast Region first team and the First-team All-NEC, ultimately accumulating in a NEC Player of Year honor by the season’s end.
The two teams are set to begin action at 7 p.m. Friday evening. Fans at home can catch the Huskies on the official streaming platform of Connecticut athletics, UConn+.