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Men's Soccer: One win from College Cup, UConn travels to No. 8 Virginia

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 23:12

Men's Soccer

JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus

UConn senior center back Michael Mercado clears the ball during the season opener against St. Francis (NY). Mercado and the Huskies will play No. 8 seed Virginia Friday night in Charlottesville, Va. The winner of the match will advance to the College Cup at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

The UConn men’s soccer team will keep its Cinderella shoes on as it takes on University of Virginia tonight in its third straight appearance in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.

The streaking Huskies (12-2-8), unseeded in the tournament, will face Virginia (12-5-5) for the fourth time in program history. The two clubs’ most recent meeting came with a 2-0 Huskies win over the Cavaliers in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.

The eighth-seeded Cavaliers are making their first quarterfinal appearance since their 2009 national championship. The team has been led offensively this season by the likes of sophomore forward Darius Madison, who scored in Virginia’s 3-1 win over Marquette last week, and junior midfielder Eric Bird, who leads the team with seven goals on the year.

“We’ve got to be ready for whoever Virginia plays,” said head coach Ray Reid on Virginia’s offensive options.

Virginia may be favored on paper but won’t enter the match with nearly as much momentum as the Huskies. After a 2-1 win over intrastate rival Quinnipiac to open up the tournament, UConn has rattled off consecutive road penalty shootout wins over UMBC and the top-seeded UCLA Bruins.

Further, the Huskies are currently riding a 17-match unbeaten streak, having not lost since a tight Sept. 17 defeat at Syracuse.

“We like being on the road right now,” Reid said. “We’ve been in tough environments and the kids have done alright with it. So this is just another game. The pressure is certainly on [Virginia]. They’re the higher seed, they’re the home team; they’re expected to win. We’re just an unseeded team just along for the ride.”

As always, junior goalkeeper Andre Blake has been a rock for the Huskies throughout the postseason as he has come up with countless clutch saves throughout regulation and especially in the penalty kick rounds against UCLA.

“That’s one of the greatest feelings ever, to know that no one expected us to win that game,” Blake said. “In the end, saving that penalty, it was one of the greatest feelings ever.”

And with UConn’s offense led by the likes of freshman Cyle Larin, sophomore Nicholas Zuniga and senior captain Mamadou Doudou Diouf, the Huskies are primed to build upon their postseason offensive success: The team has scored 14 goals so far over six postseason games.

The winner of tonight’s match will move on to the NCAA College Cup semifinals for a matchup against either California or Maryland next Friday. UConn will be playing for its sixth College Cup appearance and first since winning its third national championship in 2000.

The Huskies will kick off against the Cavaliers tonight at 7 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville.

Sports editor Tim Fontenault and campus correspondent Ryan Tolmich contributed.

 

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