UNH men’s soccer: No. 16 Wildcats Sweet-16 loss to No. 1 Oregon State puts an end to best season in program history

Brackett Lyons, Sports Editor


CORVALLIS, ORE. — Ninety minutes of blood and sweat ended in tears for the Wildcats Sunday night. The No. 16 University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (17-2-2) gave it everything they had and put up a hell of a fight versus the top-seeded Oregon State Beavers (14-2-3). It just wasn’t enough. A lightning-quick counterattack penetrated the ‘Cats defense in the 10th minute and sunk hearts across the Granite State and ended the best season on record for the UNH men’s soccer program.  

The lone goal came without warning. UNH looked the better side early on, but then sophomore Mouhameth Thiam used his blistering speed to get on the end of a long pass heaved by redshirt senior Tsiki Ntsabeleng. In a flash, the Oregon State attacker was past the defense and in on goal. Junior keeper Jassem Koleilat tried to close the distance, but Thiam was clinical and slotted home the game-winner.  

It feels cruel that such a simple play can undo all the work of a season. All the hours of effort and dedication were gone in an instant. It didn’t take a brilliant free-kick or a magisterial bit of dribbling or inch-perfect passing. All it took to end the Wildcats season was speed and a finish to back it up.  

Adding to the pain is just how good UNH looked versus the top team in the country. The Wildcats had more shots than the Beavers and tied them in shots on goal with three. They held possession for long stretches. They were physical and won the ball all over the pitch. Heroic goalkeeping from Koleilat and defending from graduate student Bridger Hansen kept the score at 1-0.  

The team looked every bit like a worthy opponent to the top-seeded Beavers. A fact that rubs some salt in the wound, considering UNH was forced to face the top seed after dropping 10 spots in the national rankings on selection day. What may have been a deep run in the tournament feels cut short by the committee’s punishment for UNH’s loss to Vermont. The loss in the America East Championship was UNH’s first of the season.   

Chances were hard to come by for either team all night. The attacking fireworks UNH had on display versus UNC in the round of 32 fizzled. The best chance for an equalizer came in the 18th minute. A cross into the box managed to get through a jumble of players and find the foot of fifth-year forward Linus Fallberg. The Swede was unmarked in the box and had all the space he could ask for as the ball sailed toward him. Fallberg positioned himself for a side-footed volley and made clean contact with the ball. But his effort found nothing but crossbar. The ball ricocheted back into play, but Hansen couldn’t steer his effort on target either.  

That chance haunted UNH for the rest of the night. It was hard to forget as UNH launched wave after wave of attack in the second half. Despite mustering seven shots in the closing 45, none were as clear a scoring chance as Fallberg’s. 

In a game of inches, UNH came about five short. 

Photo courtesy of Erik Dresser