It’s been an up-and-down season so far for the UConn men’s soccer team, but an encouraging one as well. The team is currently only one game over .500 at 3-2, but is undefeated at home and both losses have come against ranked opponents. Despite the program’s illustrious history, since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013, the Huskies have never won the regular season or conference tournament title. Is this the year that UConn finally breaks through?
Andrew Morrison: This UConn team is undoubtedly good enough to win the conference. The Huskies have one of the most talented forwards in the country in Abdou Mback Thiam, and the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in Jacob Houser-Ramsey. Experience goes a long way in collegiate soccer, and while the Huskies have plenty of young talent, they certainly have veteran leadership as well. Thiam, Houser-Ramsey and fellow tri-captain Dylan Greenberg are all seniors and were all selected to the Preseason All-Conference Team. The team has looked quite impressive so far against strong opponents, with both losses coming against teams ranked inside the Top 10 of the country, according to the United Soccer Coaches Poll. While the loss to Notre Dame (currently ranked No. 8) was not pretty, I’d argue that the Huskies were the better team at Indiana (ranked No. 2), falling 1-0 despite dominating the second half. If UConn can outplay the second-best team in the country, they can certainly win the American this year.
Stephanie Sheehan: Sure, the Huskies have gotten off to a strong start. And yes, they have a mix of strong veteran leadership mixed with young talent. But isn’t that just like the last two previous seasons? They hung around at the beginning of the season, but as soon as conference play comes, something seems to change. At this point in the season it’s hard to make a judgment, but if history proves anything, UConn has a lot to overcome. They missed the conference tournament the last few years with poor conference play, and they haven’t won a conference championship since joining the American in 2013. Though UConn is definitely one of the better teams in the conference objectively, it won’t matter if they can’t capitalize when it matters.
Morrison: Even if the Huskies are not tremendously improved from a year ago, the gap between them and the top teams in the conference has certainly closed. UCF, picked to finish first in the conference, received votes in this week’s poll but did not crack the Top 25, nor did any other team in the conference. Reigning champion SMU was the only other team predicted to finish above UConn (by only three points), and they’ve struggled a bit out of the gate. Let’s also not forget that UConn has had plenty of success in the conference tournament. The Huskies are 5-1-3 all-time in the AAC tournament, and have made two trips to the championship game. Yes, they’ve lost both of those games, but this team is more than talented enough to get over the hump this year. Past teams may have lacked the clutch gene, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t change that.
Sheehan: It’s true that the conference competition is not as great as it has been, but once conference play comes, we all know that the quality of the teams really doesn’t matter; it’s an entirely different season. Last year, UConn only went 4-3 in conference and lost their last three conference games to close out the season, and it was the same story two years ago- they started out extremely strong in non-conference play, won their first three conference games (including a big 5-0 win over Cincinnati) before going 0-4-1 against conference opponents to close out the season. Even though these teams obviously aren’t the same as the 2018 team, the veterans have little experience with sustained conference success, and they’re the ones leading this team. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that with the low level of competition that this team makes it to the conference finals again, but if history has anything to say about it, it’s not likely.