Men’s Soccer: Huskies stay close for first away match, take on Yale Bulldogs  

Forward Eli Conway dribbles past LIU’s defense to get closer to the goal. Unfortunately, though, the Huskies took their first loss of the 2023-24 season Friday with a 0-2 final. Photo by Zachary Moller/The Daily Campus

On Friday evening, the UConn men’s soccer team will be tasked with their first match away from Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut. The Huskies won’t need to travel far though, as they head down the road to Reese Stadium in New Haven, where they will be welcomed by the Bulldogs of Yale University. 

UConn led a campaign of a 2-1 record in the last three home games. The Huskies’ most recent match came on Monday when the team hosted the Siena Saints with a convincing 3-1 win. Connecticut received contributions from players on each level of the field, but it was the freshman who did most of the heavy lifting. Lucas Almeida and Ayoub Lajhar were both able to convert on short goals in the first half, marking the first collegiate scores for either. After the Huskies’ 2-0 lead was cut in half by a Siena score, sophomore Eli Conway put the final nail in the coffin with a late second half goal. On the play, Conway easily stole the ball from the Saints ball handler and was not challenged as streaked through enemy territory before he casually side-stepped the closing goalkeeper and punched in the goal. 

The only true mishap suffered by Connecticut in the Siena match came over a series of possessions in which the home team allowed their opponent to score a quick goal before nearly allowing a second moments after. The Huskies avoided what could have been the equalizing score, finishing the match looking more like the unit that dominated time of possession in the first half. Even with the convincing 3-1 score, UConn had a number of scoring opportunities that went to waste unlike Siena who had the potential to become a blowout early. Connecticut shot 14 times but only managed to place four on-goal, including a few near-misses in open space. While those misses did not make a difference in Monday’s contest, the Huskies need to convert the easy goals if they hope to escape a bad habit that plagued them for much of last season – being forced to play their opponent from behind. 

After two games yielding a 0-2 record, the Bulldogs will welcome UConn this season. Their previous match also came on Monday as Yale was beaten by UMass Amherst 3-0. The team failed to score a goal in either contest. 

“We … have to be tougher to play against and must be better to limit the chances of our opponents,” Yale head coach Kylie Stannard following the loss to UMass. 

Of the eight teams in the Ivy League conference, the Bulldogs are predicted to finish fourth according to the 2023 Ivy League Preseason Poll results. Despite their early-season failures, Yale possesses a respectable program and will be a challenge whenever they take the field, including versus the Huskies on Friday. 

Connecticut fans should pay close attention to how head coach Chris Gbandi utilizes Almeida on the road against Yale. The freshman played a prominent role on Monday against Siena, scoring one goal while also being involved as one of the primary playmakers on offense. In addition to the goal, Almeida narrowly missed a score on a header in the first half and had the ball knocked away as he was closing in on the goal box in the second half. He was constantly trying to create separation with his elite speed and ball-control skills, allowing him to find open space on more than one occasion. Hailing from West Hartford, Connecticut, Almeida played for Hall High School where he was named the 2022 United Soccer Coaches High School National Player of the Year and 2022-23 Gatorade Connecticut Boys Soccer Player of the Year in addition to a number of other accolades. He holds Hall’s career scoring record with 105 career goals. 

On the Yale side, defender TJ Presthus will be a major factor in slowing down the Husky offense. A junior from New Albany, Ohio, Presthus comes from a family of soccer players as both of his parents were captains for the men’s and women’s programs at Southern Methodist University. As the team’s anchor on defense, Presthus was the only Bulldog to play in all 16 of his team’s regular season games in 2021 and 2022. As a result, he’s also led his team in minutes played each of the last two seasons, including playing all but one minute in 2022. He was an honorable mention to be an All-Ivy selection after his freshman campaign before he was recognized as a second team All-Ivy selection following a successful sophomore season. Presthus’ second year also saw him be named to the United Soccer Coach All-Northeast Region third team. 

In the past, UConn is 22-6-2 when taking on its same-state rivals. This included a period from 2009-2017 in which the Huskies claimed victory against the Bulldogs an impressive nine straight games. In their most recent bout, UConn again was victorious in a 4-0 showing. However, it was Yale who claimed the win the last time the two met at Reese Stadium in 2019. 

The two teams are set to begin action at 7 p.m. Friday evening. Fans at home can catch the Huskies on the streaming platform ESPN+.  

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