The UConn women’s soccer team (5-2-2, 2-0-0) began Big East play with a strong start, defeating Creighton University (2-3-4, 0-1-0) on Thursday and St. John’s University (5-3-2, 0-2-0) on Sunday.
On Thursday, it took the Huskies 38 minutes to find the back of the net until midfielder Joyce Ryder came off the bench to score her first goal of the season on a sniper from the middle of the field. It was the junior’s second career goal and her first in two years. Head coach Margaret Rodriguez utilized the bench in Thursday’s match, using the starters and the bench evenly in both halves.
“Joyce is our 12th man coming off the bench, and she did her job,” Rodriguez said. “For her to have the confidence to strike the ball is exactly what we needed, so I was proud of her in that moment.”
After a nearly scoreless first half, forward Chioma Okafor, who leads the team in points, had her fifth match with a point, which set forward Cara Jordan up for her second goal of the season early in the second half.
Connecticut’s defense allowed the most shots at home this season at 11, including four on goal. They’ve only allowed one goal at home against the University at Buffalo earlier this month. It’s the fifth shutout of the season, all of which have been at home. Despite this, UConn still outshot the Bluejays 17-11, with eight shots on goal.
“We got dropped in a little too early,” Rodriguez said of the opposing shots on goal. “We need to adjust our line a little bit and get pressure higher up on the field, and we’ll do better in that situation.”
Midfielder Lydia LeBlanc knocked an opponent down in the second half, receiving the Huskies’ only yellow card of the match. Creighton forward Alyssa Judkins was issued a yellow card 12 minutes later.
Despite the outcome of the match, the Bluejays were the more physical team, with 11 fouls to six.
Connecticut stayed undefeated against Creighton, with a perfect 3-0 record since rejoining the Big East.
The Huskies continued their Big East schedule on a rainy Sunday afternoon against St. John’s.
It did not take long for the Huskies to strike first against the Red Storm. Jordan scored on the team’s first shot on goal to take a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the match, off the left foot to the bottom right corner of the net. She was assisted by forward Abbey Jones. Jordan now has scored in back-to-back matches to start conference play.
The first half was physical, with ten fouls combined including two that went uncalled.
“It was definitely a high-intensity game,” Rodriguez said. “We were ready for this game. We felt we were going to be the better team.”
As the rain came down onto wet turf, there were only two shots in the first half, both by the Huskies.
The second half was mostly a stalemate. Okafor had multiple opportunities to score but could not capitalize.
In desperate need of a goal late in the second half, St. John’s finally got one past goalkeeper Kaitlyn Mahoney off the foot of midfielder and leading goal-scorer Jessica Garziano. It was her third consecutive match with a goal and her seventh of the season.
Not even 30 seconds later, midfielder Sophie McCarthy set up the game-winner as she passed to Jordan, directing it to a waiting Jones who shot off her right foot to the bottom center of the net. This goal was the junior’s second of the season.
“You need big-time moments for big-time players,” Rodriguez said of Jones. “Bringing her back in to close the game, she did exactly what we needed to do.”
The Huskies outshot the Red Storm 10-5, with eight fouls and eight corner kicks for each team.
“We’ve been super proud of our defense,” Rodriguez said. “Our defense is what is getting us through games. We’ve been having a lot of attack-minded play, but we were struggling to score, and the only way to get through those moments is to have a strong defense. I don’t think they allowed a shot in the first half.”
Similar to Thursday night, the Huskies utilized their bench. 19 players saw the field and 14 recorded at least 35 minutes.
After losing three straight against St. John’s, Connecticut finally earned its first win since 2021, improving their overall record against the Red Storm to 18-8-2. It was revenge for last year’s loss in the Big East Tournament that ended the team’s season.
“We needed to keep our emotions in check,” Rodriguez said. “We needed to come back from this game from last year. They snapped us out of our playoff run. If emotions got the best of us, I don’t think we were going to be our best selves, and today [the team] showed up.”
UConn will look for their first road win on Thursday afternoon as they face No. 17 Georgetown. In hopes of keeping the Huskies’ undefeated home record alive, they will return next Sunday to take on Marquette University.