By MATTHEW CONYERS, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
11:15 PM EDT, August 30, 2013
STORRS — The UConn men's soccer team needed no reminder of the unpredictability of its sport, or for that matter what its opponent was capable of in its first game of the year Friday.
In each of its previous three season openers, St. Francis of New York had proven to be a surprisingly persistent and at times pesky foe.
The Terriers may have lost each of those games, including 1-0 defeats Friday night and last August, but in all of them they had gotten progressively more daring and more aggressive. They certainly weren't afraid of the Huskies.
About 24 hours after the football team was shocked by Towson UConn, the fifth ranked team in the country, made sure to avoid too many costly mistakes, and it worked.
UConn took its first lead of the season nearly 24 minutes into the game on a goal from freshman midfielder Cyle Larin, and never looked back. Led by Larin's encouraging play and a shutout from Andre Blake, the Huskies took down St. Francis 1-0 in front of 3,225 at Morrone Stadium to start their 2013 campaign.
"If we tied this game 1-1, we would've been livid, so we'll take the win and move on and get ready for William & Mary, which will be a tough game," UConn coach Ray Reid said. "We got to work on our team shape [Saturday] and Sunday, and we will. It was our first game...I was happy with the first half but not the second."
UConn (1-0) plays William & Mary in its second game of the season Monday at 7 p.m. at Morrone. The Huskies have beaten St. Francis (0-1) by a combined score of 6-0 in the last four openers.
Larin, who arrived in Storrs as a promising recruit out of Brampton, Ontario, didn't wait long to make his presence felt in a Husky Uniform. Larin made a smart run into the box and headed a crisp diagonal cross from fellow freshman Kwame Awuah into the back of the net.
"I saw [Larin] opening up and calling for the ball so I tried my best to hit him down the middle over the defenders head and it got to him," Awuah said.
The combination from the two freshmen wasn't too much of a surprise. Throughout the first 20 minutes, both mixed well into the Huskies' possession-based style and had their chances to get their team on the board even sooner. Barely nine minutes in, Larin played a great ball inside the box to Mamadou Diouf, who missed wide at the far post. Then about five minutes later, Larin played a nice through ball at the top of the box to Diouf. But again he couldn't get to it.
With the first half lead, the Huskies locked in and played comfortably in front of Blake for the closing 20 minutes of the half. The junior goalkeeper, who returns this season as arguably the best in the country, didn't have to make a save in the first half. And despite the play of his two freshmen, Reid was still pointing to the players of his senior leaders as a key component
"Let's not crown these two guys Kemba Walker and Ray Allen, let's not get ahead of ourselves," Reid said. "We got Andre Blake the best goalkeeper in America; you've got Mamadou Diouf, Colin Bradley and George Fochive."
The second half was a little different story. The Huskies looked increasingly tired and still getting used to the new season.
"You saw 20 minutes to go, we were fatigued and we got to have more of a killer instinct and get the second goal," Reid said. "In the first half it should've been three and we let them hang around."
Only five minutes into the second half, St. Francis' Kevin Correa rushed in on Blake's near post and fired a low shot from about 12 yards out. Blake was ready. With the type of confidence Husky fans have gotten used to, he punched the ball down for a corner, which wouldn't amount to much.
"Their keeper is unbelievable, I think he's probably the best in the country," St. Francis coach Tom Giovatto said. "It was a great shot and hit near post on purpose. He figured left foot the goalkeeper would be looking far post and he just made an incredible save. He's been doing that every year we've come here."
Still, the Terriers weren't quite finished. With 30 minutes left, UConn needed to clear a ball off the line that had just gotten past Blake.
St. Francis got one last quality chance inside the box with 1:48 left when Correa got beyond the Husky defense only to miss a low shot on the far post.
"You got to rise to the occasion, and the guys did [Friday]," Giovatto said. "We think we can hang with a lot of teams and we're going to have a good year."
It was Blake's 27th shutout with the Huskies. But for Reid, it was step one of a long journey. He was pleased with some of the play, but more than ready to get back to work.
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