The UConn men’s soccer team is a little more than a week removed from having its season abruptly ended at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Counting the two exhibitions, five of UConn’s opponents this year made it to the NCAA Tournament. Two are still dancing: Indiana and Notre Dame will face each other Friday for a trip to the Final Four. With three of UConn’s six losses coming at the hands of those two teams, it’s safe to say the Huskies faced stiff competition in 2018.
But up in Storrs, the attention turns to the 2019 campaign, where the soccer staff is already making big moves. First, the Huskies recently signed four newcomers to the class of 2023; Marcus Peterkin, Josh Morgan, Jayden Reid and Wesley Leggett.
Last week they made another big splash, announcing that Jordan Hall was transferring to UConn from Rutgers. This past season, Hall bagged 14 goals and two assists for 30 points on the year, earning him First-Team All-Big Ten and All-Big Ten Conference Tournament accolades.
“He was one of the best goal scorers in the country this year for Rutgers,” associate head coach Mike Miller said of Hall. “He has a hunger for scoring goals and being the best he can be. He fits the mold of a UConn attacking player and we are very happy to secure his services for the 2019 season.”
If those stats look familiar, that’s because they’re eerily similar to those of Abdou Mbacke Thiam, UConn’s talisman for the last four years. Mbacke Thiam’s exploits have been well-covered here, and filling his presence was perhaps the Huskies’ biggest question mark heading in the offseason.
Hall can fill those boots. A quick glance at his 2018 highlights, found below, shows a forward with a great first step and finishing prowess. Rutgers did a great job last year of playing into him the same way UConn played into Mbacke Thiam, so the transition should be relatively seamless.
Hall should form a strike force with the current collection of returning talent that can hopefully build off the 2018 campaign that saw the Huskies return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.
A lot of Hall’s goals next year will probably come from Dayonn Harris, who exploded onto the scene with five goals and seven assists, finishing second on the team in points. His slicing cuts and well-placed crosses from the wing were the frequent source of Mbacke-Thiam’s goals this year.
And don’t forget about Ibrahima Diop, the hero of the Rhode Island game. While he only scored one regular season goal, Reid noted toward the end of the season that he was playing out of position on the wing all year. When moved to his natural position up top in the tournament, he responded with that hat trick, marking a definitive torch-passing moment between Mbacke Thiam and Diop.
Rounding out the attack will be Cole Venner and Josh Burnett, the former of which appeared in all 20 games but only started one, yet finished the year third on the team in points with seven. The latter netted himself three goals on the year and improved as the season went on.
As the offseason continues and UConn announces more signees, we’ll take a deeper dive into the team’s identity for 2019.