On Monday night, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team flexed their muscles in front of the home fans in Storrs, Conn. in what amounted to an impressive 3-1 victory over the Saints of Siena College at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium at the Rizza Performance Center.
Siena managed the first shot of the night off the leg of senior Jack Mendrysa, but his attempt was swallowed by UConn’s goalie, sophomore Jayden Hibbert. Freshman Kieran Chandler had a chance in the 10th minute when he penetrated the left wing and crossed a nice pass to fellow freshman Lucas Almeida, but his header from short distance was deflected by junior Henrik Winkelmann in the Saints’ goal box.
Almeida got revenge for his near miss in the 13th minute of action. On the play, teammate Moussa Wade had possession of the ball on the right side of the Siena goal box. He lifted a pass towards traffic in front of the net, where the Saints’ Miguel Plaza had a chance to break up the pass. The sophomore misjudged his timing and whiffed on his attempt to stop the ball, which found Almeida, and the freshman converted from within the goal box. For Ameida, it was the first goal of his college career and gave his team an early 1-0 advantage.
In the 17th minute, Connecticut had an opportunity to add to their lead when sophomore Nicolas Tomerius found space in the Saints’ goal box, but he fired his shot over the top-right of the net. Siena countered with their own attempt in the 28th minute as the offense completed a series of well-placed passes to find the open man in the goal box. Unfortunately that player, senior Junior Kone, was called for offsides on the play.
Siena junior Thomas Sams was called for a yellow card after he took down UConn sophomore Eli Conway from behind in the 34th minute. The Huskies made the Saints pay on the subsequent free kick. Chandler handled the free kick and completed a pass into traffic in Siena’s goal box. The ball whizzed by a number of bodies in the box, but Connecticut freshman Ayoub Lajhar managed to get a foot on the ball as he backed away to play the bounce. He directed the pass up into the net for UConn’s second goal of the game. Like Almeida’s, the goal was the first in the college career of Lajhar.
The Saints penetrated the Husky defense in the 40th minute but were unable to convert on multiple looks. Connecticut’s Hibbert made a nice stop on a cross pass that had two Saints players on the receiving end. The UConn offense flirted around the Siena goal to end the half but was unable to come away with another score. Connecticut entered the break leading 2-0 after having dominated the time of possession through the first 45 minutes.
UConn came out in the second half looking like a team with serious intention. In the first few minutes after action resumed, Chandler crossed a pass to junior Scott Testori in the goal box. He beat his defender to the ball and managed to get his head on it, but was unable to redirect the ball in the direction of the net. One minute later, Almeida gained a full head of steam headed toward the Siena goal and had just the goalkeeper to beat. However, he had the ball knocked away from behind just as he closed in on what would have been a surefire goal. Chandler and Testori had another chance for a cross-connection a few minutes later, but Testori again couldn’t complete the attempt on the header.
Frustrations began to mount for the Saints as head coach Graciano Brito was given a yellow card for his antics on the sideline in the 54th minute. The card seemed to energize the Saints players as the team was able to break through in the 61st minute. The offense penetrated Connecticut’s goal box and strung together an impressive series of passes. Eventually sophomore Magnus Saaby found an open Winkelmann, and the latter one-touched a shot into the Husky goal from close distance. One minute later, Siena broke through the UConn defense again and had another good look at a shot with the only line of defense being the goalkeeper. This time, the Huskies’ Hibbert just managed to stretch his leg out and deflect the shot attempt away from the net to prevent the away team from tying the contest at two goals apiece.
Connecticut’s offense remained in a stalemate until the 74th minute when the offense found open space behind the Siena defense. However, Lajhar’s attempt from short distance was not a challenge for the Saints’ goalie, freshman Bennet Glider. One minute later, graduate student Adil Iggoute had a chance on a header from inside the goal box but could not convert. UConn’s Conway picked up the slack on a head-up play in the middle third of the field. When Siena’s Sams lazily received the ball at midfield, Conway alertly challenged the ball handler and stole the ball with ease. With no defenders behind Sams, Conway casually side-stepped Glider in the goal and buried the close shot attempt. It was the second goal of the year for Conway and gave his team a 3-1 lead.
In the 79th minute, the Saints crossed a pass into the Husky goalbox and UConn’s Hibbert deflected the pass as he went down to the turf, but couldn’t clear the ball from the goal box. The ball found the Saint closest to the net and was tapped in for an alleged goal, but an offsides call bailed out Connecticut and negated the score. The Husky defense stepped up immediately after as Hibbert made a great save and the defensive unit cleared the ball on a close attempt by the Saints in order to preserve the lead. UConn’s last real chance to add points came when Iggoutte found sophomore Christian Dionne in the Siena goal box, but Sams closed in on the penetration to deflect the shot just in time.
In all, the Huskies doubled the Saints in shot attempts after firing off 14 compared to the visitor’s seven. Both teams managed four shots on goal, but it was Connecticut that made their shots count by converting three scores. The two teams also committed eight fouls each, though it was UConn who dominated the corner kick battle, seven to two. The Saints were also called for two offsides penalties compared to Connecticut’s one. In the goal, UConn’s Hibbert racked up three saves to two for Siena’s Glinder.
With the victory, the Huskies complete their three-game homestand to start the season with a solid 2-1 record. The team’s next challenge will take place in the form of the Bulldogs from Yale University. The two Connecticut squads are set to clash heads on Friday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. from Reese Stadium in New Haven, Conn.