Despite the pitch looking more like a slip ‘n slide than a soccer field due to the immense amount of rain that plagued Storrs on Friday, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team bested the Villanova University Wildcats in a gritty 1-0 affair.
The two teams couldn’t muster enough offense through the first 20 minutes of the contest to have a real shot at putting points on the board. UConn’s Jayden Hibbert was effective for his team in goal, saving four Villanova shots in the first half to keep the opponent from striking first. The Huskies’ first chance to convert a score came in the 21st minute. After penetrating the Nova goalbox, Connecticut’s Pierce Bateson rifled off a shot from close distance. His aim was just awry as the ball deflected off of the left goalpost and missed the net entirely.
As the rain continued to fall and neither team advanced, the two sides began to elevate the intensity. On one play, UConn’s Kwame Adu-Gyamfi and Villanova’s Belmar Joseph slid into each other while trying to gain control of the ball. The two collided, and Bateson and the Wildcats’ Mikhail Zaretser joined the scuffle. After tensions settled, Zaretser was given a yellow card for unsporting by the game officials. It wasn’t the only yellow card the Cats got in the first half. Gray Ricca also earned a yellow card when his momentum knocked over a Connecticut player just before halftime.
Freshman Kieran Chandler provided the Huskies with the spark plug they so desperately needed to gain an edge over the Wildcats. With just one minute remaining in the first half, the UConn offense broke loose on a fast break towards the Nova goal. Just as the Huskies ran into the teeth of the defense, it appeared that Villanova had successfully stopped the Connecticut push. The Wildcats’ Marcus Brenes attempted to clear the ball away from the goal, but instead kicked the ball directly into the leg of Chandler. The mistake proved costly after the ricochet was directed straight into the net before a Villanova defender could stop the ball. Chandler was credited with the goal on the play, the first in the freshman’s young collegiate career, and the breakthrough gave the Huskies some much-needed momentum in the previously stagnant contest.
Three minutes after halftime ended and action resumed, UConn’s Max Gummesson was forced to briefly exit the game when he caught the elbow of a Villanova player while attempting a slide tackle. Later, Connecticut’s Adil Iggoute was issued a yellow card for running into a Nova player that was clearly out of bounds. Adu-Gyamfi also received a red card for shoving a Wildcat out of bounds ten minutes later. Just before the clock hit zero, Villanova’s Vincent Petrera was issued a yellow card for arguing with an official.
UConn had a number of close opportunities to convert. In the 50th minute, Iggoute had what seemed to be a surefire score after he wonderfully headed a pass mere feet from the net. However, Nova goalkeeper Kent Dickey masterfully commanded the goal on the play, stepping up to make the sprawling stop and leaving Iggoute stunned. The Huskies had another chance from close range two minutes later, but Dickey again made an effort to tally the save and stop the home team from extending their advantage.
As the game progressed, neither side was able to snap out of their sluggish slump until the game clock displayed all zeros. As a result, Connecticut had claimed an ugly 1-0 win, besting Mother Nature under conditions that soccer was not intended to be played under.
With the victory, the Huskies improve their overall record to 6-3, including a 2-1 showing against Big East teams. Meanwhile, Villanova drops to 1-4-3 on the season, including 0-1-3 in the conference.
Overall, Villanova outshot Connecticut 14 to 13 and managed to put five shots on goal compared to UConn’s three. Hibbert played well in the goal, gobbling up five saves compared to two for Dickey. A total of 16 fouls were called by the officials, with 11 being directed at Nova and the remaining five going against the Huskies. UConn attempted 11 corner kicks to the Wildcats’ six, and the one offsides call of the night was against Connecticut.
Connecticut’s next matchup is set for Tuesday when they welcome the Catamounts from the University of Vermont. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut, where UConn will be hosting International Student Night. Fans can catch the game from home with a subscription to UConn+.