STORRS, Conn. – Freshman Matt Jeffery (Freehold, N.J./Freehold Township) scored in the 26th minute, but the nationally-ranked No. 23 Monmouth University men’s soccer team fell to third-seeded and fifth-ranked Connecticut, 2-1, in the NCAA Tournament Second Round, Sunday afternoon at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. With the loss, the Hawks conclude the season at 14-6-2, while the Huskies move on to the third round to face the winner of Sunday’s second-round game between Wake Forest and James Madison.
“First of all, congratulations to UConn,” said Monmouth Head Coach Robert McCourt. “They’re as good a college soccer team as you’ll see in the country. I tip my hat to them. They did a great job. I thought, at times, we went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country, for a small school from a small conference. I was very proud of that. We had two mistakes in the game that they punished us on. When you’re on the road at a place like UConn, you can’t make mistakes and not expect to get punished.”
The Hawks got the scoring started with Jeffery’s goal in the 26th minute. RJ Allen (Old Bridge, N.J./St. Joseph’s) sent a free kick into the box that was headed on by Kalle Sotka (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinteen Sports) to Jeffery, who lined a shot into the lower left corner for the score.
39 minutes into the first half, UConn evened the score. Carlos Alvarez bent a corner into the box that Mamadou Doudou Diouf went high to get a head on. The shot snuck under the crossbar for the score.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Diouf ran under a pass over the top of the Hawks’ defense. Monmouth senior Anthony Vazquez (Belford, N.J./Middletown North [St. John’s]) was whistled for a foul and sent off with a red card, setting up the game-winning penalty kick by Diouf in the 50th minute.
Forced to play a man down for the final 40-plus minutes, the Hawks generated a couple of dangerous scoring opportunities, but could not capitalize. For the game, the Huskies outshot the Hawks, 16-3, while taking six corners to Monmouth’s one. Hawks goalkeeper Alex Blackburn (Natick, Mass./Natick) made four saves in defeat, while Connecticut’s Andre Blake allowed a goal, but did not make a save in being credited with the win.
The game marked the final contest in the decorated careers of Monmouth seniors Christian Nogueira (Kearny, N.J./Kearny), Vazquez, Max Hamilton (Medford, N.J./Shawnee), Allen, George Quintano (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan), Cesar Blacido (Ramsey, N.J./Ramsey), George Caiella (Pittstown, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) and Erkko Puranen (Viitasaari, Finland/Voionmaan Lukio [URI]). The senior class contributed four Northeast Conference Regular Season Championships, three NEC Tournament Championships, advanced to two NCAA Tournament Second Round games, and won 58 games in four years.
“It’s a bit tough for me to see these guys graduate,” said McCourt. “We graduate eight seniors, all of whom played today. Six of them started. It’s been an unbelievable class of guys who have had a lot of success as players, but are also great kids. So it’s going to be tough to see those guys move on.”