TAMPA, Fla. – Early goals and miraculous saves, coupled with a gritty defensive effort, paved the way for the UConn men’s soccer team to take sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference with a 2-0 win over USF on Friday night at Corbett Stadium.
Freshman Josh Burnett recorded his first-career tally in the fourth minute, putting the Huskies (7-3-2, 4-0-0 American) ahead for good against the Bulls (6-4-1, 3-1-0 American) – UConn’s fifth win in its last six games.
The American Digital Network captured UConn’s fourth-consecutive conference conquest, as head coach Ray Reid’s team remains unbeaten in the American. The Huskies are the only undefeated team left in conference action with 12 points.
Not only did UConn receive an early strike from Burnett, but junior captain Abdou Mbacke Thiam doubled the lead less than four minutes later with a goal in the eighth minute – making it 2-0 very quickly.
Though the Huskies have not made a habit of scoring early and often, Burnett and Thiam defied all previous games this season on Friday night. Prior to the USF contest, UConn had scored less than two goals in eight of 11 games.
Heading into a big matchup with the Bulls, Burnett’s early goal took some pressure off the Huskies – taking advantage of a feed from Thiam to beat USF goalie Christina Knight to the bottom right corner. For UConn, it was the quickest goal to start a game this season at 3:43.
Thiam – who continues to have a Player of the Year type of season – scored his eighth goal of the year on a breakaway, placing the ball out of an approaching Knight’s reach.
From that point on, redshirt senior goalkeeper Scott Levene took over, recording four saves on the night but making numerous defensive plays in the box on crosses and corner kicks. He posted his conference-best seventh shutout of the season and fourth-straight in conference play.
One of Levene’s biggest saves came in the 88th minute, when he used quick reflexes to deflect an acrobatic shot from the edge of the six-yard box.
— American MSoccer (@American_MSoc) October 14, 2017
Levene punched away a cross in the 73rd minute, while knocking a corner kick out of the box in the 86th. USF held an 18-9 edge in shots throughout the contest, as it played aggressively while facing a two-goal deficit.
With Levene’s brilliance between the posts, the defensive backline of redshirt junior Dylan Greenberg, junior captain Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and redshirt senior Andrew Geres kept the USF offensive attack in check with a 2-0 advantage.
UConn had opportunities in the second half to expand its lead, as sophomore Niko Petridis fired a clean shot over the crossbar in the 59th minute. In the 65th, freshman Nicolas Apostol crossed to Petridis in the box, but the ball was just out of reach for the charging midfielder.
Friday marked Levene’s 64th consecutive start in goal for the Huskies, while handing USF its first loss since Sept. 8 against Creighton. UConn now controls its own destiny as it competes for an AAC regular season title in the final six games of the season.
The Huskies return to non-conference action on Tuesday night when they visit Boston College. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. (ET) and it will be broadcast on ESPN3.