With a disappointing 2014 season behind them, the UConn men’s soccer team have high hopes and even higher expectations for the upcoming 2015 season. Huskies head coach Ray Reid is banking on new team leadership and a better team mental approach as the keys to success this fall.
Last season saw Reid’s Huskies fail to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since the ’97 season, when most of the current players were still in preschool. The Huskies opened the season with five losses and a tie through their first eight games, before a change in goal and a more forgiving conference schedule salvaged a ten win season and an American Athletic Conference regular season crown.
During the preseason media session in Storrs, Reid stated that, despite the regular season conference championship, the overall lack of team cohesion was a significant obstacle to success last fall, lamenting, “The chemistry last year was not good. We had problems. Guys checked out. Guys had agendas.”
This season, the leadership responsibilities will rest on the shoulders of red-shirt sophomore goalie Scott Levene, who got the starting nod at the halfway point last year after Jacob Wagmeister struggled in goal and on junior captains Jakob Nerwinski, a defensemen whom Reid described as “the best leader we’ve had in seventeen years” and midfielder Kwame Awuah.
Reid summed up his captains’ individual attributes saying, “(Nerwinski) gets (the leadership role). He bridges the team for us. Kwame leads by ability.”
The naming of two juniors as captains reflects the overall youth of this season’s squad with Nerwinski dismissing any perceived snubs or hard feelings on the part of the seniors saying, “We’re respected by our seniors. They have our backs and are really helping us lead the team.”
UConn opens the season this evening hosting St. Francis Brooklyn with just four seniors on the roster.
With last year’s two top scorers, Cyle Larin and Ethan Vanacore-Decker, gone, Reid shrugged off any concerns regarding the offense simply saying, “Larin replaced Mamadou (Diouf). Mamadou replaced Tony (Cascio)… It’s bigger than one guy. Ethan (Vanacore-Decker) scored goals for us. We’ll figure it out.”
Despite stabilizing the goalie situation in the second half of 2014, Reid said the bigger challenges for Levene lie in September and early October with the Huskies out of conference schedule. If UConn hopes to make a return to the NCAA Tournament this season they will need wins against the likes of Santa Barbara, Louisville and Dartmouth to overcome the perceived weakness of the AAC.
Said Reid on Levene, “Here’s the challenge for Scott. He got better. We got much better. He got it going to a certain degree…The question for me is not Scott in conference games. It’s against (the out of conference schedule). He’s solid. The question is can we get we’re we need to go with a solid guy. But, he’s much better than I thought and has done a good job. Everything he’s got. He’s earned.”
Levene, who had the fourth lowest goals against (0.51 GA) average in Division 1 last season, was asked to compare the pressure and expectations of taking over the reins midway through the ’14 season to being named starting goalie for 2015 and answered by saying, “Last year I waited for my time. Just tried to help the team as much as I could. We were very young last year so it took us some time to get used to it. Pressure is different for everyone. I’m gonna put the most pressure on myself. I’m my biggest fan and I’m my biggest critic. So, the pressure of the crowd and who ever we play, it just goes in the back of the rear view window. I think the nerves go out for me last year. I’m a little bit older and I got some guys around me that really know what they’re doing.”
UConn hosts the Terriers this evening at 7 p.m. at the Joseph J Morrone stadium in Storrs. The Huskies are 6-0-0 all-time against St. Francis Brooklyn dating back to 1990. An opening season win will be the first step in putting the frustration of 2014 behind them and hopefully set the Huskies on the right track to success in 2015.