Despite a poor start to their season, the UConn men's soccer team still has a chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament, but will need to win the American Athletic Conference in order to do so. After playing Cincinnati to a scoreless draw and then defeating Tulsa 2-0, the Huskies currently sit at 2-1-1 in the conference, with three crucial games this week against UCF, Temple, and SMU. UConn is currently in third place, and three wins this week would greatly solidify their position at the top of the AAC.
In their game against Cincinnati, the Huskies simply could not get anything going on the offensive end. Without star Cyle Larin, who didn't travel with the team because he was called up to practice with the Canadian men's national team, UConn really could not garner any quality opportunities other than Tyler Leeman's header in overtime. Leeman's goal would have been the game winner, but he was called offside.
The biggest takeaway from this game was the defense, who turned in one of their better performances of the year. Sergio Campbell and the rest of the Huskies defense held John Manga, who was sixth in the country in goals scored, to one shot on goal. Scott Levene also turned in his second shutout in as many starts.
When UConn returned home against Tulsa, it was very clear that this game was critical. The Huskies' defense was once again outstanding, limiting Tulsa to just five shots and never letting the Golden Hurricane get comfortable on either end. Kwame Awuah notched UConn's first goal on a long shot from 30 yards out in the 39th minute. Larin put the game away when his shot was deflected off a Tulsa defender for his fifth goal of 2014.
On Tuesday, No. 2 Syracuse entered Morrone for what many thought would be a close and exciting game, and the first half certainly was. Both teams had a few chances, but neither had any great looks. Both teams played excellent defense, and the game seemed destined to go to overtime, as both teams looked evenly matched in every aspect. It looked as if the Huskies could even possibly squeak out a win if they played their cards right.
Then the second half happened.
Cuse scored their first goal in the 50th minute, which the first goal Levene had given up in his collegiate career, ending his scoreless streak at three games. The Orange then scored three goals in under 35 minutes to extend the lead to 4-0.
Cuse just flat out played better in the second half, there was nothing really the Huskies could have done. After the loss, head coach Ray Reid wasn't worried. His focus has shifted to the conference games, because they're now UConn's only ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
"I told the team before [the game], I'm on the NCAA committee. The only way we're getting in is to win the conference," Reid said. "This game was a freebie. It comes down to the conference games. We have five left and the conference tournament. Not that they looked past it, but this game was meaningless."
The Huskies get back into AAC play tonight with a game against UCF in Orlando. The Knights are winless in conference play so far, but boast one of the conference's best scorers in Romario Williams. Williams was the AAC preseason forward of the year, and is currently second in the AAC in goals with seven. If UConn's defense turns in a performance like they did against Tulsa or Cincinnati, the Huskies will have a very good chance of nabbing their third conference win.
UConn returns to Morrone October 22 for a matchup against Temple. The Owls are currently sixth in the AAC, and are just about average in most of their statistics this season. However, the Owls do generate a lot of corner kicks, which could be an issue for the Huskies. In their 4-0 loss to Syracuse, two of Cuse's goals came off of corner kicks. After defending them well most of the season, it will be interesting to see if UConn can prevent the Owls from scoring on these restarts.
After Temple, the Huskies take on SMU at home in their last AAC home game of the year. SMU is currently in first place in the AAC, and lead the conference with 26 goals scored. A win against the Mustangs would likely allow UConn to slide into the top two spots of the AAC and give them tremendous momentum heading into games against Yale and USF as they finish out the remainder of the regular season.