Men’s Soccer: No. 24 UConn primed for big year

Abdou Mbacke Thiam (#11) runs past a sliding defender in a win over Boston College 1-0 in overtime on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at Morrone Stadium in Storrs, CT. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Abdou Mbacke Thiam (#11) runs past a sliding defender in a win over Boston College 1-0 in overtime on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at Morrone Stadium in Storrs, CT. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

After a disappointing finish to last year’s 11-7-1 campaign, the UConn men’s soccer team comes into the 2017 season with plenty of reasons for optimism.

The American Athletic Conference also sees the upside of the Huskies this year, as they were picked to win the conference in the AAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. UConn is also ranked No. 24 nationally in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll.

With the high expectations, the Huskies will certainly miss the leadership of graduated captains Jake Nerwinski and Kwame Awuah, who are currently playing in the MLS. Other notable departures from last year’s team include Nick Zuniga and Sebastian Brems.

Head coach Ray Reid will rely on junior captain Abdou Mbacke Thiam to pick up where he left off in 2016. Thiam has led the Huskies in goals in each of the last two seasons, tallying 10 goals and four assists in 17 games last year. He was a unanimous selection to this year’s Preseason All-Conference Team.

Possibly joining Thiam at forward is newcomer Dayonn Harris, a junior transfer from Penn State. Harris started all 18 games for the Nittany Lions last year, scoring three goals and two assists. Reid rolled out Thiam and Harris as forwards in a 4-4-2 formation for UConn’s final exhibition game last week, perhaps signaling a change from last year’s one forward approach.

On the other end of the field, redshirt senior Scott Levene will once again be in net for the Huskies. The standout goalkeeper has made 52 consecutive starts, dating back to his redshirt freshman year in Storrs. Last year, Levene led the AAC with a .792 save percentage.

The UConn back line will feature much of the same lineup that helped the Huskies to a conference- leading 0.77 goals against average last year. Returning players Andrew Geres, Dylan Greenberg, Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and Nkosi Burgess are all back in Storrs and ready to step in for the loss of Nerwinski and transfer Simen Olafsen.

Geres, the only senior of the group, was the second-leading goal scorer on the team a season ago, netting three goals while also recording three assists. Greenberg, a redshirt junior, returned to the field last year after missing a year to injury. Hauser-Ramsey started 18 games at center back as a sophomore and should be a defensive leader in his 2017 junior campaign, while Burgess looks to improve in his second year in Storrs.

Greenberg and Hauser-Ramsey were both selected to join Thiam on the AAC Preseason All-Conference Team.

In the midfield, UConn will have to replace the production from Awuah and Brems. Senior captain Cheikh Stephane Coly has started every match since his freshman season with the Huskies and has provided a big boost to the defense.

Sophomores Niko Petridis and Munir Saleh will be expected to build on their promising freshmen seasons where each earned a spot on the AAC All-Rookie Team. Both young players will have to make strides for the Huskies to live up to their preseason rankings.

The 2017 season kicks off with the home-opener against Iona on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. Admission is free for all UConn students.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.