Jordan Hall opened his UConn scoring account in the 20th minute and doubled the Huskies’ lead with a spectacular headed finish in the second half to lead UConn to a 2-0 victory over Rider in their opening game of the season at Al-Marzook Field in Hartford on Friday night.
The Huskies controlled possession from the opening minute and threatened to score early but struggled to make the right passes and finish opportunities in the final third. Freshman forward Moussa Wade squandered an early pair of golden chances to open his UConn scoring account, missing a shot from inside the box over the bar before scuffing another effort minutes later straight at Rider goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois.
“Moussa was not sharp for most of his first start tonight,” head coach Ray Reid said after the game.
UConn finally broke through as junior right back Alex Patz combined a dribble move and give and go with senior Dayonn Harris on the right wing that allowed Harris to blow past his defender. The speedy Harris drove towards the endline and whipped in a low cross that made it all the way to Hall at the back post and the Rutgers transfer was able to hit a one-timed left-footed shot into the bottom left corner.
“I was ecstatic honestly,” Hall said. “It’s always nice to start off the season with a goal.”
Immediately after scoring, Hall sprinted to the sideline and celebrated in front of a very lively fanbase of several hundred UConn students who chanted the forward’s name and made repeated note of his resemblance to English soccer star Wayne Rooney.
“I definitely heard the fans tonight,” Hall joked. “I’ve never had that kind of fanbase playing anywhere before.”
Hall seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd and looked a constant threat as he attacked defenders with dribble moves, picked out incisive passes and pestered Rider players who kept the ball at their feet for too long. Despite scoring twice, his most impressive moment may have come in the final moments of the first half as he headed clear a ball off a corner kick. Hall started a one man counterattack as he chased down his own clearance and ran full field past a pair of Rider defenders only to have his beautiful, chipped-shot attempt saved by Gatinois.
“He [Hall] brings an edge that we really need,” Reid said. “He’s tough, he scores goals, he’s exactly what we need.”
Although UConn dominated play, they spent much of the game holding a one goal lead. The Huskies center-back pairing of juniors Jake Dengler and Robin Lapert was rock-solid as each player was able to seemingly win every challenge in their area and keep Rider attacks at bay, while the pair looked comfortable in possession of the ball as well.
“They [Dengler and Lapert] are good players,” Reid said. “Rider had some good players but Dengler and Lapert played smart.”
UConn continued to create scoring chances and was finally able to double their lead in the 55th minute. Harris found the ball on the right wing and sent a deep cross to a charging Hall, who blasted a header from the top of the box into the top right corner as Gatinois could only stand and watch it fly into the net.
“I saw him [Hall] and I just tried to do my best to get it into him,” Harris said. “It was a tough ball but he finished it.”
As the final whistle neared, the intensity of play remained high as the Huskies nearly added a third goal on several different attacks and a small physical skirmish broke out between the two teams in front of UConn’s bench after freshman defender Thomas Decottignies was fouled hard with five minutes to play.
The victory marked coach Reid’s 300th win at UConn.
“I’m worried about winning,” Reid said of his 300th win. “We’re going to play Rhode Island. Numbers are numbers, I don’t really care.”
The Huskies play URI in Kingston, RI on Monday at 7p.m.
Story Salit is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at email@example.com.