Despite a strong showing on defense that kept the game scoreless late into the second period, the No. 5 University of Connecticut men’s soccer team was eliminated from the Big East Tournament following a 2-0 loss in the semifinal round to No. 1 Georgetown on Thursday evening.
The Hoyas put pressure on Connecticut’s defense straight from the opening kick, forcing Jayden Hibbert to be extremely active in the goal early. Georgetown managed two looks from within UConn’s goalbox in the first five minutes, but Hibbert made sprawling saves on both to keep the game scoreless.
The Huskies managed their first real chance in the seventh minute, getting off multiple attempts from within Georgetown’s congested goalbox, but the Hoya defenders stepped up to clear the ball. Soon after, Georgetown’s Marlon Tabora made a sweet move to get past Connecticut captain Guillaume Vacter and penetrate UConn’s box, but Hibbert again stepped up to take away Tabora’s only look at the corner of the goal. In the 12th minute, Jack Loura made a sliding play to recover a loose ball that could’ve caused danger inside UConn’s goalbox to stop another Georgetown chance.
The next 18 minutes of the half proved to be fairly stagnant as both teams exchanged fouls and possessions. For the most part, the ball stayed on the UConn half of the field for those minutes as Georgetown put pressure on Connecticut defenders but could not break through the back line. The Hoyas’ Kenny Nielsen received the first yellow card of the contest in the 30th minute after pulling a UConn player down from behind.
In the 31st minute, Connecticut’s Pierce Bateson kicked into another gear to slice through three Georgetown defenders as he passed midfield, but his shot from outside of the box sliced left and away from the goal. The Huskies had another chance in the 41
ndst minute when Eli Conway broke into the Hoyas’ goalbox, but his attempt to pass the ball through the defense was deflected away. Georgetown had the final chance of half with 30 seconds remaining when Matthew Van Horn sliced through UConn defenders, but his shot from far sailed high and over the net.
Georgetown outshot the Huskies 8-1 over the scoreless first half. In total, Hibbert made four saves for Connecticut while Hoya goalie Ryan Schewe had none due largely to Georgetown’s ability to keep the ball on UConn’s side of the field.
The Hoyas had the first chance of the second half in the sixth minute of action when Marlon Tabora headed a cross pass from within the Husky goal, but Hibbert once again stepped up to corral the save. Joe Buck had another chance to head in a score for Georgetown one minute later but his try missed the goal to the left. A close offsides call erased what could’ve been yet another scoring chance for the Hoyas just another minute later.
It was Tabora who converted the first score of the contest in the 69th minute of play. At the top of the Husky goalbox, Georgetown’s Kiernan Sargeant fed a close pass to Tabora at the top of the box. Tabora stepped up to receive the ball and quickly turned around a shot that curved from the left to the right, squeezing past the outstretched arms of Hibbert and into the net. After the Hoyas were able to consistently penetrate the UConn box, Tabora’s score from far was equally impressive and surprising. With the game entering the later stages, Georgetown had finally jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
The game was temporarily paused in the 75th minute when the referees reviewed a yellow card against the Huskies’ Loura. After revealing the foul, UConn’s Moussa Wade was also given a yellow for his involvement in the play. Uconn pieced together what was their final chance on offense in the 82nd minute after Conway was fed the ball deep the the Georgetown box but his shot from close sailed over the bar.
The Hoyas put the game away with their second goal with just over three minutes of action remaining. Kyle Linhares penetrated the Connecticut box but had his drive stopped by UConn defender Josh Morgan. The ball trickled a few feet away to an open Max Viera, who lifted a line drive kick into the top-right of the net off of the rebound, giving the Hoyas a 2-0 lead that they would not relinquish. The game-sealing score sent a surge of energy through the home fans. Wade received a red card after the game had been all but finalized.
The win catapults Georgetown to the championship round of the Big East Tournament, where they will play host to No. 2 Xavier.
“Since the start of [last] spring’s semester, we knew that the work we were putting in was to get here today, win today, and get to Sunday’s game,” Tabora said following the contest. “This is a winning program. Our goal is always to get as many wins as we can during the regular season. Obviously, our mindset is on Sunday but we’re also keeping an eye on the upcoming NCAA tournament.”
In total, the Hoyas outshot UConn 16-5, putting seven shots on goal while the Huskies did not have a shot on goal. A total of 26 fouls were committed, 16 by Connecticut and 10 by Georgetown. The Hoyas had three offsides calls to UConn’s zero and attempted nine corner kicks to the Huskies’ three. Hibbert recorded five saves in the contest while Schewe, not facing any shots that were placed on goal, had zero saves for Georgetown.
The loss eliminated Connecticut from the conference tournament, but there’s hope that their season will remain alive with a bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament. If their season is indeed over, the 2023 Huskies will be a team that is remembered for the resilience and passion that they played with in every game.