No team in the American Athletic Conference has been better than the UConn men’s soccer team this year, and the Huskies deservedly hold the top spot in the conference. In just over a week, the regular season conference champion will have been determined. But first, there’s two final rounds of in-conference matches to decide who that champion will be.
UConn sits at 10-2-2 overall this year and is ranked No. 15 in the country, but more importantly, is undefeated in conference play at 3-0-2, which translates to 11 conference points. That’s good for first in the American, though not by much, with UCF (10-2-2, 3-1-1 The American) and SMU (7-4-2, 3-1-1) just one point behind.
And that’s why this Saturday’s game against SMU at home, the final game ever at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium, is the biggest game of the season for UConn—it will likely dictate who wins the conference.
When asked about the importance of Saturday’s match, head coach Ray Reid didn’t try to downplay the pressure on his team.
“It’s the biggest. If they beat us and UCF loses, they win the league,” Reid said. “It’s bigger than Indiana, it’s bigger than Notre Dame, it’s the biggest. We haven’t been in a game this large in four years.”
Notre Dame and Indiana, currently No. 23 and No. 2 respectively in national rankings, have provided the only two losses on UConn’s resume this season. Both came on the same weekend, the first week of Sept., which the Huskies have put firmly in the rearview mirror.
With six possible conference points remaining on the table, there’s still plenty of room for some major changeups in the American standings. Not to mention, UCF currently holds the tiebreaker over SMU, having won the head-to-head matchup earlier in the season. But whoever comes out on top on Saturday will likely take the driver’s seat in the conference.
The Mustangs have just one loss in their last seven games, the 2-0 defeat to UCF back on Sept. 28. Last time out, SMU soundly beat last-place Cincinnati, 3-1, in Dallas.
SMU is led offensively by senior midfielder Emil Cuello who does it all for the Mustangs, leading the team in both goals scored (5) and assists (6). However, it’s a well-balanced attack, as six different players have all recorded multiple goals this season.
If the offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, the defensive numbers certainly do. SMU has allowed just .92 goals per game—the next fewest in the conference is UConn, at 1.07 per game. Defender Talen Maples is just a sophomore, though he’s the team captain and unquestioned leader of the defense. Maples was tabbed the AAC Defensive Player of the Week last month, and is a large reason why the Mustangs have recorded five shutouts this season.
In addition to being a decisive game for the immediate future, Saturday’s match will also be a memorable game for years to come, as the Huskies say farewell to their home field. The home of UConn soccer for 50 seasons, Morrone Stadium, will host its final game on Saturday, with the new facilities expected to be ready for the 2020 season.
The match begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday, and there will be a post-game ceremony following the match to honor the stadium and its storied history. It’ll be an emotional farewell, but the Huskies are focused on picking up those much-needed three points against SMU.