The University of Connecticut men’s soccer team will face perhaps their toughest opponent yet this season when they host the No. 11 team in the nation according to the NCAA Men’s Soccer RPI, the Catamounts from the University of Vermont.
Through nine games, the 2023 version of the Huskies appear to have taken a major leap over last year’s team. With an overall record of 6-3, UConn is just one win shy of their entire 2022 total. That includes a 2-1 mark to begin conference play this season. Connecticut won three games in a row between Sep. 11-19 and ripped off an impressive victory given the abysmal weather conditions over the Villanova Wildcats on Friday, 1-0.
Head coach Chris Gbandi must be impressed with the all-around play he has received from his team this season. Instead of having one clear leader, the Huskies have benefitted from contributions up and down their roster. On Friday, it was freshman Kiernan Chandler’s turn to step up and guide UConn to victory. Chandler scored the lone goal in Friday’s contest, though his contributions go far beyond the stat sheet. Chandler played with fierce intensity on both sides of the ball, and his effort almost single-handedly saved Connecticut from what could’ve easily been an uninspiring performance in the rain.
Meanwhile, the Catamounts have been one of the top college programs as the 2023 season rolls on. Through 10 contests, Vermont has compiled an overall record of 7-1-2 and has gone 2-0 against their America East conference rivals. The team’s one loss can hardly be held against them: they were narrowly bested 1-0 on the away turf of No. 15 Akron back on Aug. 28. Entering Tuesday, the Catamounts are riding a streak of eight consecutive matches without a loss.
Vermont has not done its winning by piling goals on top of their opponents; instead, the team has developed an identity of being an elite defensive unit. The Mounts have converted only 13 goals in their 10 games, an average of 1.3 per contest. However, the team has yielded just five goals to their opponents this season, or 0.5 per game, the fifth-lowest goals-against average in the nation. The team also has the sixth-highest save percentage in the nation (.867), thanks largely to the performance of senior Owen Jack, who has recorded 27 saves and a .844 save pct, as the Catamounts’ starting goalkeeper.
The Huskies will need to put together a strong all-around performance to compete with Vermont, though perhaps no player is more of an X factor than UConn’s Pierce Bateson. In his second season with the program, the sophomore has evolved to become the go-to weapon on offense as he leads Connecticut in shot attempts (22). He has managed two goals and three assists this season, good enough for seven points. He narrowly missed his third score of the season against Villanova, as Bateson found space from close range and fired his shot out of the reach of the Wildcats goalie, though his aim was just awry and he instead connected with the left goalpost. If Bateson can challenge the Mounts strong defensive unit, it would strongly enhance the Huskies chances of scoring goals.
Vermont has had two players take the lead on offense being Yaniv Bazini and Carter Johnson. The two rank first and second on the team in both points and shot attempts (10 points, 23 shots for Bazini and nine points, 22 shots for Johnson), respectively. A junior from Beit Hanan, Israel, Bazini scored a goal in the Catamounts most recent win over Umass Lowell. Before joining Vermont, he played two seasons for North Carolina State. Meanwhile, Johnson’s best match of the season came in UVM’s first game of the season when he scored one goal and assisted on the other in a 2-0 win. A native of Herriman, Utah, Johnson played four seasons at Utah Valley before transferring to Vermont this year. Both players will be key pieces in the Catamounts’ offensive scheme.
UConn is set to host International Student Night as a part of Tuesday’s contest. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. from Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Connecticut. Fans at home can catch the game live with a subscription to UConn+.