One of the first thoughts for any team that suffers a heartbreaking defeat is to get right back on the field and put the loss behind them. That’s a little tough when a loss like that ends a season leaving that bittersweet taste for the next nine months. So it has been for the UConn Huskies, whose 2012 campaign ended in a stunning 1-0 home loss in the final 90 seconds to Creighton in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. This week UConn can begin putting the 2012 season in the mirror.
Gone to graduation are Carlos Alvarez, Max Wasserman and Jossimar Sanchez. Big losses on paper, but UConn coach Ray Reid returns a solid squad with the same goal in mind as last year’s team. Win the College Cup. The Huskies, 17-4-1 last season, closed the books on the Big East calling the new American Athletic Conference home. With the move UConn said good-bye to long time conference rivals Georgetown, St John's, Marquette and Notre Dame. For old time sake UConn travels to 20th ranked (NSCAA) Syracuse for its road opener on September 17. The Huskies open with five home games, the first of which is against St Francis (NY) Friday evening in Storrs.
The Huskies also hosted St Francis in last seasons opener, knocking off the Terriers, 1-0.
With the exhibition games done Reid took stock of his Huskies heading into the season opener, "Right now we're a work in progress. We're working on things. Focusing on fitness."
Bigger than the offensive punch that graduated with Alvarez (23 pts, 7 goals) and Wasserman (10 pts) was the leadership that went with them. Asked who he expected to fill that important void on this year’s team Reid said, "Mamadou (Diouf) and Andre (Blake) are great leaders ", while also noting the expected contribution of defender Sergio Campbell.
Reid said that even with the offensive losses to graduation the Huskies should have plenty of fire power up front. "We have Mamadou, Allando (Matheson), Juho (Karppinen), Cyle (Larin), (Adria) Beso and Nick (Zuniga). We'll be fine."
The Huskies ranked fifth nationally (NSCAA) are the AAC's preseason #1 pick ahead of Big East holdovers Louisville (2nd) and USF (3rd). The league coaches also awarded junior Andre Blake as the Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year. Blake garnered Big East Goalkeeper of the Year in both his first two seasons as a Husky. Also taking preseason honors was Mamadou Doudou Diouf (32 pts, 15 goals) named Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Said Diouf on the Preseason award, "Expectations are pretty big. Not only from coach (Reid) but from the whole school and I'm fine with that. I just have to try to not think that much about it. I'm just going to go out there and play my game. Help my team."
This seasons schedule features match-ups against four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25. Road games at Syracuse and against 10th ranked Louisville and home games against the 15th ranked Billikens of St Louis and a rematch against 23rd ranked Washington. UConn knocked off Washington's Huskies last September on the road 1-0. UConn will also a tough USF team sitting just outside the Top 25.
Among the other conference opponents the Huskies will face this season are Temple, University of Central Florida, Rutgers, Memphis, Cincinnati and Southern Methodist.
Asked to compare the AAC to the Big East Reid would only say. “We’re in it to win the league. Doesn’t matter which one.”
High expectations are the norm for Ray Reid’s Huskies and this season is no exception. UConn is the regular season favorite and barring anything unforeseen should be one of the favorites in the inaugural AAC Tourney to be held at the FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas in mid-November. As for the NCAA Tournament, disappointing losses in the prior four years show what a single goal and penalty kicks can mean in the cruel unpredictability of the one and done format. Husky nation hopes that in the long run these things have a way of balancing out.