Connecticut soccer coach Ray Reid brings a new definition to the phrase tight-lipped.
To say Reid was extremely guarded in discussing his team and Sunday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal match against Creighton is a bit like saying Pele was a pretty fair player back in his day.
Reid was extremely cordial during a short telephone interview Thursday, but he volunteered information much like a man facing an IRS auditor with a prison term hanging in the balance.
Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich chuckled when told about the conversation with Reid.
“He’s a character,” Bolowich said. “Once you get to know him, he really opens up.”
Given what’s at stake Sunday, it’s not surprising that Reid might be unwilling to open up in a phone conversation with a reporter he had met just once five years ago. The winner of the quarterfinal in Storrs, Conn., will advance to the College Cup, soccer’s final four.
Reid’s Huskies won a national championship in 2000, beating Creighton in the title game. Now in his 16th season at Connecticut, Reid said the strength of this year’s team is its togetherness.
“The guys have played good futbol over the year,” he said. “It’s a very cohesive group.”
An athletic one as well. The Huskies are led by a pair of national player of the year candidates in Mamadou Diouf and Carlos Alvarez. They are among 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy, presented annually by the Missouri Athletic Club to the college game’s top player.
Diouf, a junior forward from Dakar, Senegal, leads Connecticut in scoring with 15 goals and 34 points. Alvarez, a senior midfielder from Los Angeles, has scored seven goals and has nine assists.
Defensively, the Huskies (17-3-1) have allowed just 11 goals in 21 matches. Goalkeeper Andre Blake, who has played all but 12 minutes this season, brings a 0.52 goals-against average and 61 saves into the match against the Bluejays.
Alvarez, Diouf and Blake were among eight starters back from a 19-win team that made it to the elite eight of last season’s tournament.
“It’s a good group of guys,” Reid said. “I was excited about this team’s potential from the start, but I thought a lot of last year’s group, too.
“Every team takes on its own identity. I like this group a lot.”
Asked what impresses him about Creighton, Reid replied, “They’re a very good team. They have good talent, they’re well organized, tough and disciplined.
“Elmar has done a great job in his two years at Creighton, just as he did a great job at Chapel Hill.”
Bolowich’s first Creighton team made it to the College Cup before being eliminated by Charlotte in a semifinal shootout. The Bluejays opened tournament play this season with a home win over Washington, then played No. 1 Akron to a double-overtime draw before winning the shootout.
Connecticut won both of its tournament games at home, knocking off Northeastern 1-0 and then posting a 2-1 win over New Mexico in the second overtime.
The Huskies fell behind New Mexico 1-0 before Diouf tied the match in the 76th minute. Freshman Nicholas Zuniga won it in the 105th minute with the first goal of his career.
The match drew more than 4,300 to Connecticut’s 5,100-seat Morrone Stadium. Connecticut officials said Thursday afternoon only 500 tickets remained for Sunday’s game.
Asked if playing in front of a big crowd at home is advantageous this time of year, Reid replied, “We’re trying to advance. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing at home, playing at Creighton or halfway in Indiana. It’s all about advancing.”
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