The No. 20 University of Connecticut’s women’s soccer team kicks off conference play Thursday night in what could prove to be the most significant road trip of the season.
The Huskies (8-1-0) will face American Athletic Conference-rival No. 24 South Florida Bulls (7-1-1) in Tampa on Thursday, a matchup featuring two offensive powerhouses on the bubble of national championship conversation. Following that game, UConn will travel to Orlando to play the unranked-but-formidable UCF Knights (5-2-1) on Sunday afternoon.
Junior forward Rachel Hill, the team’s leader in goals and assists this season, said she understands the high stakes of this weekend’s series.
“Both of the Florida teams give us trouble (every year),” Hill said.
Many of the returning players said at the beginning of the season that their goal was to win a regular season conference title. This weekend has the potential to determine whether that is a possibility.
The three primary contenders for the American championship in the preseason coach’s poll were UConn, South Florida and UCF, so the ripple effects of these matchups will be felt throughout the remainder of the season. While conference-rival Tulsa’s 9-1-0 record brings them into the conversation, the Golden Hurricanes remain ranked at No. 48 in RPI despite its stellar results – highlighting questions about the teams’ strength of schedule. In contrast, South Florida, UConn and UCF currently rank No. 16, No. 20 and No. 30 in RPI, respectively.
In short, winning one of the two games on this road trip is likely a statistical necessity for UConn to clinch a regular season conference title.
The Huskies come into the weekend with a two-game winning streak, after defeating Central Connecticut 2-1 last Friday night and Brown 1-0 on Sunday. UConn’s only loss this season came at the hands of No. 11 Rutgers, a team still undefeated and sitting at No. 2 in RPI.
UConn’s success in Florida will ride on whether Hill receives enough touches and open looks near the box. Rutgers was able to shut down all of Hill’s shot attempts in the second half of the Huskies’ 2-0 road loss to the Scarlet Knights, a major factor in their inability to make a comeback.
Hill and the Huskies have seen the most success when she or junior forward Stephanie Ribeiro get a clean pass to the edge of the box from the wing forwards.
South Florida is coming off a double-overtime loss on the road at No. 15 Texas Tech on Sunday afternoon. The Bulls have either lost or tied in two of their last three games.
However, South Florida’s offense still remains dangerous. The Bulls average 2.33 goals scored on 18.9 shots per game, slightly more efficient than UConn’s 2.11 goals scored on 19.8 shots per game.
Senior midfielder Olivia Chance leads South Florida’s offense with six goals and five assists. Sophomore forward Ocean Parr and junior forward Trudi Carter also pose threats offensively. Parr has four goals on the season while Carter has three goals and one assist.
While UConn and South Florida are dueling 100 miles southwest, UCF will open conference play against Temple on Thursday night. The Knights have only lost to No. 3 Florida State and No. 9 Florida this season. While not fielding nearly as strong an offense as South Florida or UConn, the team converts 12.9 percent of its shots to goals, higher than both the Bulls and the Huskies.