Men's Soccer Column: Be patient, goals are coming

UConn junior defender Jakob Nerwinski dribbles away from two defenders during the Huskies' game against Quinnipiac at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium on Aug. 31, 2015. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Through their first two games of the 2015 season, the UConn men’s soccer team hasn’t scored a goal. 

The Huskies opened their season last Friday against St. Francis Brooklyn, the preseason pick to win the Northeast Conference and its second game was against Quinnipiac on Monday night. Those are two games UConn should win. 

They didn’t win either, however, tying both games 0-0. It was the first time since 1985 that UConn opened a season with back-to-back ties. 

Going back to last season, UConn’s last goal was Nov. 8, 2014, a scoreless drought that has now lengthened to 349 minutes. And who scored the last goal for this team, you ask? It was Chris Musco, a goalkeeper that entered the game at forward in the 89th minute. It was his first time playing in a college game.

For onlookers, this may be a cause for concern. But the team and head coach Ray Reid are remaining patient and confident. They know the goals are coming. 

“I think we were much better [Monday]," Reid said. "St. Francis was very defensive. [Quinnipiac] started defensive but we could stretch them out. We moved the ball. We were dangerous. This is no excuse, you got two juniors playing and probably four or five guys that started last year. It is going to take a little bit of time."

The Huskies are young this year. But they have a lot of talent. 

Against Quinnipiac, UConn started four freshmen, four sophomores and three juniors. Both of their starting forwards, Abdou Thiam and Fredrik Jonsson, are freshman. The chemistry hasn’t been there yet, but they showed signs of what could be in the second half and both overtimes on Monday.

Against St. Francis, the Huskies failed to create dangerous scoring opportunities. They were able to control the midfield, but they couldn’t get anything working going forward and barely put pressure on the opposing defense.

UConn freshman forward Fredrik Jonsson tries to win the ball off a Quinnipiac defender during the Huskies' game against the Bobcats on Aug. 31, 2015. The team will be looking to Jonsson to provide a scoring spark this season. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Jonsson, a 6-foot-4 striker from Sweden, barely touched the ball and struggled to get into a rhythm in the final third. However, Jonsson was much more active against Quinnipiac. 

“Freddy (Jonsson) was the best he’s been since April,” Reid said of Jonsson’s performance on Monday.

Jonsson has big shoes to fill replacing Cyle Larin. He’s been put in a tough spot. So far in his rookie season in the MLS with Orlando City, Larin has 11 goals in 21 games. But to put Larin’s freshman season into perspective, he scored one goal in his first five games. 

Monday’s game against Quinnipiac was a better performance from the Huskies, at least in the second half and the two overtime periods.  After an uneventful first half in which UConn gave the ball away too often in the midfield, they flicked a switch on in the second half.

Suddenly there was a sense of urgency within the team and they started to get up and down the flanks at ease, allowing them to create quality-scoring opportunities on both sides. 

They couldn’t find the back of the net, but they were close on many occasions. If not for a few tremendous saves by Quinnipiac goalkeeper Triston Henry, the Huskies could have had multiple goals. 

Reid felt much better about Monday’s performance than Friday’s opener.

"We got to get better and we got to win games, but to be honest with you I feel a hell of a lot better than I did after St. Francis," Reid said after the Quinnipiac game. "Let's be honest here. It should've been 6-0. I won't even blame our strikers on that because our strikers weren't the guys missing bunnies. But we played better."

A big reason why UConn was so successful in the second half against Quinnipiac was because of Nick Zuniga and Andrew Geres. Both players have come off the bench the first two games and provided a spark for the Huskies. 

Zuniga, a senior from Norwalk, Connecticut, has the speed that can create mismatches whether he’s in the middle of the field or on the wing.

Geres, a redshirt sophomore from Portland, Connecticut, has looked more confident on the ball this year, and it looks like he’s got the trust from Reid. Geres played most of the second half and both overtimes against Quinnipiac. His speed and play-making ability really caused problems for the Bobcats out wide.

There’s no question that not scoring goals is frustrating. It is for any team. That’s why people play the game. Players want to score and you can’t win if you don’t.

Albeit against weaker teams than they’ll play later in the year, they certainly have made strides from the first to second game. Once that first goal goes in, more will come.

For those who want to see more goals: Be patient, the goals are coming. UConn can end its scoring drought on Friday night against Dartmouth at 7 p.m. 

“Fan’s come to see goals, to see entertainment,” co-captain Kwame Awuah said after Monday’s game. “So to not have goals in 220 minutes is sort of a problem but we have to give the two guys (Thiam and Jonsson) time. It’s their first college experience and we’re just trying to get them comfortable up front and give them as many opportunities to score. Once they start scoring they’ll get going.”


Matthew Zampini is sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.zampini@uconn.edu. He tweets @Matt_Zamp.