Men's Soccer Notebook: UConn prepares for Elite Eight matchup against Virigina on Friday
Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 23:12
There are a lot to be made of curses when it comes to the world of sports.
Curses are damning. They are ruthless. They are cruel.
However, every curse is meant to be broken, someday and somehow.
The University of Connecticut men’s soccer team has been exorcizing a few of its demons these past few weeks, as the Huskies have emerged from not one, but two penalty shootouts after previously being winless in PKs in the Ray Reid era.
The Huskies have entered matchups with UMBC and UCLA as dead men. They were unranked, unheralded and unsung. Yet, both times, the Huskies have managed to play another day.
“All of the know-it-alls had us dead,” said Reid, whose team had been written off by pundits throughout the regular season. “We didn’t have a good team. We didn’t have good players. We lost the plot. You know what? Our season has been over since the 15th of September. Everyone has been moaning except these kids.”
The Huskies are staring down a trip to Virginia, as UConn is now one win away from its first trip to the Final Four since 2000.
Despite the obstacles, the Huskies have fought on, and senior captain Mamadou Doudou Diouf has recovered from injury just in time to lead his team into the do-or-die NCAA tournament.
“These past two weeks have been the two best weeks, I think, in my UConn career,” said the senior, who is playing every game as if it could be his last, and it very well could be. One bad bounce, one mistake, and it can all be over.
These Huskies know what they’re up against; they’re playing the top teams in the country each and every weekend. However, they are not alone, as the Huskies have been followed by supporters each and every step of the way.
First it was UMBC, where UConn fans made a 335-mile drive from Storrs to Baltimore to watch a 120-minute soccer game.
“When you are playing and you see your fans who traveled six hours in the cold and wind to watch you play, are you kidding me?” said Diouf. “You need to give everything you have. If you go down, you go down, but it’s going to take a hard punch.”
Then it was UCLA, almost 3,000 miles across the United States. Despite the distance, UConn support was as loud as ever
“UCLA has never had their field stormed by a visiting team,” said Reid, whose trip to UCLA saw UConn return with the scalp of the nation’s top ranked team. “We probably had 600 to 700 fans there. They had about 400…It was unbelievable to watch these people storm the field to be honest with you. It was like a home game at Morrone.”
The Huskies have traveled all over the country to play their game, and have come home each and every time victorious. According to Diouf, it’s about a lot more than winning soccer games; it’s about the pride that comes with representing the university.
“There’s something different and something special about this university,” said Diouf, who will leave Storrs for greener and more professional pastures in the spring. “Every single person here has the same objectives and the same goals. It’s our family against them… Even when we leave here, it’s Husky forever.”
“It’s not only about the university, it’s about the state of Connecticut,” continued Diouf. “We have pride. All of us. We love this university… Those fans who came, sometimes it’s the fans look like they’re players. They want to get on the field to make plays. It’s pride.”
With that being said, UConn seems to be building something special. They’ve gotten over the hump that is PKs. They have gone on the road and emerged with another game to play. They have struggled, they have failed, but they have endured.
With that being said, Reid is making sure his team doesn’t look too far ahead, as the idea of fate and future is something that doesn’t exist in the UConn locker room.
“Team of destiny is movie stuff,” said Reid. “We need to get ready for the University of Virginia. I’m just very proud of these guys, and I mean that… They’ve overcome a lot of adversity.
“They’ve been through some wars. We’re pleased right now with where we’re at. We’re just taking it a game at a time. We’re on the road, and hopefully we’ll do enough to hang around on Friday night.”