DURHAM — It was the Victor Menudier show at Wildcat Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
The senior striker from France scored in the 43rd and 47th minutes to lead the UNH men’s soccer team past Hartford 2-0 and into Saturday’s 4 p.m. America East tournament championship game. The Wildcats will play the winner of Thursday night’s NJIT-Vermont semifinal.
The win improved the 10th-ranked Wildcats to 7-0-1. College soccer is playing a shortened spring season after the fall season was canceled by the pandemic.
Menudier, who provided a burst of offensive energy off the bench, struck first off a rebound in front of the goalmouth right before halftime. His second goal came off a long ball from Sam Henneberg on which Menudier outran two Hawks to the ball and fired it home to give UNH the breathing room it needed.
“The defender was a bit hesitant,” Menudier said. “I read it and was running off the ball, trying to score off one touch. Went in the back of the net. I was happy about the second goal.”
A poor start that saw Hartford control the pace early gave way to a dominant performance by the Wildcats. UNH outshot the Hawks 23-8.
“We didn’t have a good start,” UNH coach Marc Hubbard. “Hartford came out with some pressure and a little bit more intensity. With the wind in our face they won the toss and took the wind, and we had a bit of trouble playing through that.”
The win was the Wildcats’ second over the Hawks this season after a 4-0 verdict in March.
UNH found a way to control the pace from the midfield. Yannick Bright had a brilliant game dictating play in the middle of the field and both Linus Fallberg, Bilal Kimal, and Exeter’s Jacob Gould found ways to make consistent attacking runs from all over the field.
The Hawks did find ways to generate chances and Alejandro Robles was up to the task. The recently named America East goalkeeper of the year, Robles had six saves for the Wildcats.
“Hartford, a credit to them, didn’t give up and created some chances,” Hubbard said. “Robles did well today to anticipate and cut out a lot of stuff.”
The win put the Wildcats in position to win their third straight America East title and earn a bid to the program’s fourth straight NCAA tournament.
One huge improvement this spring season has been the team’s finishing ability. The Wildcats have scored fewer than two goals only once this season and have four players with three or more goals. By contrast in 2018, when the Wildcats won the America East title, they had the same number of players score three or more goals despite playing a season twice as long as this truncated one.
“We knew our attack would be much more improved,” Hubbard said. “When you get this deep in the season you don’t really know which guys are going to be available. I think going forward, if we can get a couple guys back we’ll be feeling really good about it. In the meantime we feel like we have a good rotation and are in a good place to score some goals on Saturday.”