By: Alex Greenberg
The Boston University men’s soccer team lost to three-time national champions UConn 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut. The loss means that coach Neil Roberts and the Terriers finish their season with a record of 12-6-2.
The Terriers will feel that they deserved better as they dominated possession for much of the game. The Terriers jumped in front when Felix De Bona scored his ninth goal of the season in the 30th minute. Mark Wadid made one of his trademark runs down the right wing and played a low cross for De Bona who smashed the ball into the roof of the net. Freshman TJ Butzke was credited, along with Wadid, with an assist on the play for his role in the build up.
Shortly after De Bona’s goal Matt Gilbert had to come off his line to stop a breakaway. Gilbert did very well to spring off his line and shut down the angle for the attacker. It’s a play he made numerous times during the game, but a play that did not count towards his tally of two saves.
After that scary moment the Terriers turned up the pressure on the Huskies. Butzke, who was particularly active in the first half, almost assisted De Bona for a second time just a few minutes before halftime. De Bona volleyed Butzke’s cross well but was thwarted by UConn keeper Scott Levene.
Seniors Richie Robinson and Jeroen Blugh gave fitting performances in their final game for BU. The All-Patriot League honorees did great work in a BU defense that was not as bad as the three goals they conceded would indicate.
UConn’s equalizing goal in the 54th minute was the most controversial goal of the night. Kwame Awuah appeared to have dribbled over the end line but the assistant referee never raised his flag. Awuah played on and crossed for DeAndrae Brown who tapped in from close range. After reviewing the play BU should feel aggrieved as the ball clearly went over the end line and should’ve been given as a goal kick.
Conceding a goal that shouldn’t count is always mentally draining on a team, but the Terriers responded well to the Huskies equalizer. BU controlled possession with forceful play in the midfield, but they struggled to successfully work the ball into the UConn box. In hindsight the Terriers needed to produce something from what amounted to nearly 25 minutes of dominance in possession.
That dominance lasted a while but was broken in a matter of seconds in the 76th minute. The Huskies counter-attacked after winning possession deep in their own half. The ball came to Awuah who stood over the ball for a few seconds before curling a shot over and around a leaping Gilbert from the edge of the area.
BU could’ve even had a penalty just a few minutes after they went behind. Patriot League Rookie of the Year Magnus Benediktsson drove at the end line and played a cross which clearly hit a defender’s hand in the penalty box. The referee gave a corner kick, but that and a second corner came to nothing. Six of BU’s seven corner kicks on the day came in the second half.
With their season hanging in the balance the Terriers pushed for a late equalizer. They pressured but were still unable to create clear scoring chances. With numbers forward BU was once again caught out with a counter attack as Awuah scored his second goal of the game off a cross from Jake Nerwinski.
The Terriers 15th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history ended earlier than it probably should have. BU arguably had the most talented team in the Patriot League, but they only won two of their last six games. If they’d beaten Army in West Point on Halloween than they would’ve hosted the Patriot League Tournament. Instead the tournament was hosted by Colgate in Hamilton, NY, and the Terriers lost to American University in what was a disappointing semifinal performance.
The performance at UConn was better, but the lack of a final incisive pass to cut open the Huskies defense is what ultimately doomed BU.
For Seniors Blugh, Robinson, Lucas McBride and Kelvin Naito this is the end of their playing careers at BU.
But the future is bright for the Terriers, who return many valuable players from this year’s team. Freshmen were a big part in BU’s success this season, with Benediktsson, Butzke, and Ben Valek each making big contributions. Sophomore transfer student Anthony Viteri also impressed during his first year for Coach Roberts. The return of upperclassmen Wadid, Gilbert, De Bona, and Patriot League Defender of the Year David Asbjornsson should help BU to similar, if not greater, success next season.