After defeating Yale on the road Tuesday, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team returns home Saturday night to face the University of South Florida Bulls in an American Athletic Conference showdown at Morrone Stadium. The last time these two conference foes squared off was in the conference tournament semifinals, which the Huskies won 2-1.
UConn (10-3, 3-0 the American) has been on an incredible run over the last month or so, winning seven consecutive games, outscoring opponents 16-2 over that span and posting five straight shutouts. The win streak has launched the Huskies back into the national polls, placing at No. 24 and No. 13 in the NCAA and TopDrawerSoccer rankings, respectively.
This great stretch of play can be attributed to the Huskies’ anchors on the defensive end of the pitch, sophomore center back Simen Olafsen and redshirt junior goalkeeper Scott Levene. Between Levene’s sturdy goalkeeping and Olafsen’s ability to mark forwards and clear out any loose balls, the defense is nearly impenetrable.
In fact, UConn hasn’t allowed a goal in 457 minutes of play and has a 0.53 goals against average on the season, a testament to how important the defense has been to the team’s overall success this season.
“We just have to stick to what the blueprint has been all year,” head coach Ray Reid said. “We need some rest and recovery (after Yale on Tuesday) and hopefully the guys will be ready and focused on the weekend, and I hope they keep doing what they’ve been doing all year.”
USF, on the other hand, is coming into Saturday night’s matchup 5-6-2 on the year (2-1 the American). Most recently, the Bulls lost to No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast University on the road 3-2. Despite a mediocre record this season, USF is not a team to overlook.
“(USF is) a good team and a very talented, very dangerous one,” Reid said. “(They have) a lot of different attacking players. Good in the back, good size and very well-organized. They’re very committed to the cause and they will be a very difficult bunch on Saturday.”
The Bulls’ most dangerous attacking player is Lindo Mfeka. Mfeka, a senior midfielder from South Africa, has scored three goals and tallied four assists for USF in just seven games played this season. He is the focal point of their attack and will need to be shut down if the Huskies hope to keep their win streak (and shutout streak) alive.
If the defense plays up to its standard, and attacking players like Abdou Mbacke Thiam and captain Kwame Awuah keep scoring, then UConn should have no problem putting away USF Saturday night. With a win, the Huskies could emerge from the weekend as one of the top ranked teams in the country as UConn continues its climb up the polls.
Chris Hanna is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.