Roundtable: Will the men’s soccer team make the NCAA tournament?

The UConn men's soccer team celebrates with freshman forward Frederik Jonsson after he scored the go-ahead goal against Rhode Island at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

After missing the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 16 seasons, the UConn men’s soccer team finds itself in a similar situation this season, going 4-5-4 through their first 13 games.

Heading into this season, this young UConn team needed players to step up offensively to fill the void left by Cyle Larin and Ethan Vanacore-Decker, the two leading goal scorers. More than halfway through the season, the Huskies have yet to find an answer to their scoring woes, scoring just 10 goals on the year.

Last season, head coach Ray Reid and the Huskies mitigated their lackluster start with a strong finish, making it all the way to the American Athletic Conference championship game before falling to South Florida in penalty kicks.

With a similar run likely to keep their NCAA tournament berth hopes alive, The Daily Campus sports staff weighed in on the team’s chances of making the NCAA tournament.

Peter Harasyko

I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where the soccer team makes the NCAA tournament. At 4-5-4, I’m going to rule out an at-large bid. Scoreless draws against teams that are supposed to be easy wins and that glaring home loss to a 1-5-2 Memphis team look pretty bad on UConn’s résumé.

The Huskies simply cannot score enough goals to win. UConn has only had three multiple-goal games this year, which, coincidentally account for three of their four wins. The team has been solid at the back, but that’s all for naught if they’re not given a lead to protect.

In order to make the tournament, the team must win the conference tournament. Although last year’s team came within a few penalty kicks of doing just that, this year, the team won’t have the luxury of playing at home with a high seed. Barring an unlikely conference tournament run, I don’t think the team makes it this year.

Dan Madigan

For the second year in a row, a UConn team full of talent will need to win the American Athletic Conference tournament in order to get an NCAA tournament berth. On paper, this team looks immensely talented, and was predicted to be amongst the best in conference and country. However, for a multitude of reasons, the team has failed to put together a successful product for the second year in a row. 

While some players like Kwame Awuah, Jake Nerwinski and Scott Levene have done well, many of the new players such as Fredrik Jonsson and Sebastian Brems have failed to live up the hype. While the defense has been solid like usual, the offense has not absorbed the blow of losing Cyle Larin and Ethan Vanacore-Decker like expected, making goals hard to come by this season. 

With the American tournament away from Morrone and less than stellar offense, the Huskies will have a hard time getting to the conference championship, let alone the NCAA tournament. However, Ray Reid is one of the best coaches in the country for a reason, and if anyone can get this program peaking at the right time, it’s him. He will have his work cut out for him in order to make it happen though, and it looks like his team will miss the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

Matt Barresi

I could go either way on this one. The soccer program has consistently been an NCAA tournament caliber program. While it may be a down year in this department, they still bring and have NCAA tournament caliber talent. Their coaching staff is certainly up to that level as well. So I want to say those things will prevail in the end and get them where they need to be. But all those aforementioned characteristics apply to the men’s basketball program as well and last year they were not good enough to make the tournament. Cyle Larin’s loss is playing a similar role to Shabazz Napier’s loss in hoops. So while I’m rooting for them, they have underperformed for too long to expect a tournament berth at this point.

Aaron Esposito

It looks like a long shot this year for the UConn men’s soccer team to make the NCAA tournament. You can’t win if you can’t score and it has been a nightmare offensively for the Huskies this season. Abdou Thiam leads the team with four goals in 13 games and the second leading scorer only has two. This team is certainly capable of playing with anybody, but it is hard to string together wins with so much inconsistency up front.

UConn will need to win the American tournament in order to move on, so some key players will need to make adjustments if they are going to make any noise. Junior Kwame Awuah leads the team with 29 shots, but has yet to score this season. Coach Ray Reid might have to find ways to get Awuah better looks, but if it hasn’t happened so far it is unlikely to happen at all this season. There’s no question this defense can compete with the best teams in the American, but somebody needs to score if they have any chance of making it to the NCAA tournament.

Tyler Keating

You need to score goals to win soccer games, and all of UConn’s goals seemed to have left Storrs for Orlando earlier this year with the drafting of Cyle Larin to the MLS. Scott Levene is doing all that he can in net to pile up the draws, but that hasn’t been enough in American Athletic Conference play. The Huskies have allowed at least one goal in all five of their conference games, while only scoring in two of those games. The 1-0 overtime loss at home to Memphis was the most concerning of the bunch, displaying a complete and utter inability from the Huskies to produce offensively. The results are not nearly enough to earn an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

That means that a tournament berth comes down to a conference title, and everything we’ve seen points otherwise. Last year, the Huskies had a better team, hosted the final at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium, and still lost in penalties to South Florida. Yes, defense wins championships, but that saying has always carried an asterisk: you need to score a few times, too.