GREENSBORO, N.C. — No. 11 nationally ranked University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer (8-1-1, 7-0-1) fell to No. 24 Kentucky (12-4-2, 3-3-1) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by a final of 2-0 with goals from senior Bailey Rouse and first-year defender Jalen Bigby. Kentucky will move on to the third round to face No. 4 Wake Forest.
The game started off fast and furious for UNH despite being without three starters who had to be left in Durham due to coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols. UNH was without top goal scorers Paul Mayer and Victor Menudier and on the defensive end they were without graduate student Sam Henneberg. UNH handled possession for most of the first 10 minutes and got their first shot on goal five minutes into the game but the shot was saved by senior goalkeeper Enrique Facusse.
UNH kept the pressure up and it seemed like they were bound to score the first goal. UNH had three chances right in front of the Kentucky net but Facusse robbed the ‘Cats of their goal, saving all three opportunities and keeping UNH off the scoreboard.
With UNH missing so many key players head coach Marc Hubbard was forced to play sophomore O’Neil Smith-Elias. Smith-Elias had only played in one other game this season and he only appeared for five minutes against Hartford. Smith-Elias laid a late slide-tackle on a Kentucky defender and tripped him up. The official on the field gave him a questionable red card and he was disqualified from the game and UNH had to play a player down the rest of the way.
The Wildcats battled with 10 men as Kentucky started their offensive push and held them off the scoreboard for 35 minutes until they took a 1-0 lead when junior Trey Asensio crossed a ball into the box and Rouse got his head on the ball just five yards in front of the goal and put it past UNH graduate goalkeeper Alejandro Robles.
At halftime Kentucky led 1-0 but UNH had a 3-1 edge in shots showing they still had some fight in them.
Exiting halftime UNH gave an easy opportunity to Kentucky turning the ball over in their own defensive end but Robles was able to bail them out with a diving save to keep the score 1-0.
The game was tough for UNH to get back into with the man disadvantage. They tried to pile in defensively and were able to slow the Kentucky attack but being down a player really hurt them on the offensive side. UNH was able to push the ball up on their offensive end but weren’t able to have any consistent pressure.
Kentucky added on to their lead in the 83rd minute and buried UNH’s hopes of moving onto the next round as the ball bounced around the box until Bigby gained control and ripped a shot past the UNH keeper.
UNH did not come back from the 2-0 deficit even though they outshot Kentucky 8-7. Facusse didn’t face another shot on goal after the red card was given out. Meanwhile, Robles only had the one save on the day.
Hubbard was proud of the way his team battled while being down a player but ultimately it wasn’t enough for his team to pull out the win.
“Not the way we wanted it to go. I am proud about how we continued to play after getting the red card.” He continued, “I thought we showed our quality [of play] for probably 65-70 minutes of the game in terms of being able to move the ball despite being a man down.”
Hubbard also brought up the fact that UNH was without three of their starters after being left home due to COVID-19 protocols.
“Just a really hard lesson for our guys, for everything we’ve been through. Three of our starters getting traced out before we even got down here and then getting a call like that 15 minutes in the game. It’s just a really cruel lesson for the guys to deal with,” Hubbard explained.
Looking ahead to the fall season Robles is currently the only player not set to return to the team. The 25-year-old grad student has accumulated as impressive of a resume as the program could ask for during his two seasons in Durham.
The Wildcats eclipsed their highest national ranking in program history this season when they reached No. 10 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll. Hubbard and his group will garner as much national recognition as they ever have after accumulating a .950 winning percentage and the majority of their core coming back in the fall.
Photo courtesy of Eddie Justice.