The UConn men's soccer team went on a preseason training trip to Italy over the summer to build team chemistry and team leaders have high expectations going into the new campaign, which begins Friday, Aug. 26 at home against Iona.
“We set goals for ourselves at the beginning of the season, first and foremost being a national championship at the top of the pyramid,” said senior captain Kwame Awuah. “We have to progress through the season taking it game by game, and hopefully we’ll meet our goals.”
Senior captains Awuah and Jake Nerwinski along with junior captain Cheikh Coly lead a talented group of experienced players looking to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
“I think we have a really good group,” Nerwinski, a co-captain, said. “We didn’t lose a lot of guys, and we got some good guys coming in and hopefully we’ll play some good soccer and win some rings.”
The “good group” Nerwinski is referring to includes as many as eight returning starters and the return of redshirt sophomore Dylan Greenberg from a season-ending collarbone injury last year. The experience has head coach Ray Reid excited, but he is hoping for a little more fortune in terms of long-term injuries.
“We’re lucky, we’ve got a good group back,” said Reid. “They had a great spring and my expectations are high but we’ve got to take it one game at a time and stay healthy, because we haven’t been healthy the last two years, we need to stay healthy.”
The Huskies won their first exhibition game against UMass 2-0 and took down Rutgers 2-0 just a few days later. While pre-season games might mean nothing to some teams, Reid and UConn’s captains have a different view of their warm-up games, especially preaching team chemistry.
“That trip (to Italy) really helped,” said Nerwinski. “I think it helped with the chemistry and will give us something to build off of for the season and get us a quick start. The win against UMass really gets our legs back and get game fitness in and see how we play with one another.”
The team will have nine true freshmen on the roster this year, including midfielder Niko Petridis from Norwalk, who is expected to have an impact straight away as one of the first players off the bench. Another freshman looking to make an impact is goalkeeper Detre Bell from Hamilton, Bermuda. Bell will backup starter Scott Levene this year and could get some action in games against lesser opponents. Reid expects good things from his freshmen and especially good mentorship from his three captains on and off the field: the aforementioned Awuah, Nerwinski and Coly.
“I just want good leadership on and off the field, for them to do the right things, which they’ve done for a couple years now,” said Reid. “Kwame, in particular, he creates, he’s got good vision, he can play the ball, he can finish, and he gets other guys into the game, we’re looking for him to continue to be involved for us.”
The Huskies have four starters named to the The American’s preseason All-Conference team. Nerwinski was named preseason Defensive Player of the Year. His co-captain Awuah also made the team, along with sophomore defender Simen Olafsen and sophomore forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam.
With months of training and preparation nearly complete following last season’s exit from the NCAA tournament, the team is ready to get the new season underway. They will surely be one of the teams to beat in the American Athletic Conference and could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament again this year.
Chris Hanna is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.