UConn women’s soccer is coming off their worst season in program history in which they went 4-14 in Margaret Rodriguez’s first season as head coach. However, that doesn’t appear to have hurt the Huskies on the recruiting trail, at least not yet.
On Monday, the school announced the signing of Jessica Mazo, the 2018 United Soccer Coaches National High School Player of the Year and three-time All-American. Mazo — a Bridgeport, Connecticut native — is just the fifth nutmegger to win the award — joining a list that includes former US National Team star and World Cup champion Kristine Lilly.
“Jess is one of those players that don’t come around too often,” Rodriguez said in a release. ”She is gifted in every aspect of her game. She is a center-mid that can attack on the dribble, play a final pass, and can finish. She is relentless on both sides of the ball in the midfield and is a force to be reckoned with. Jess is a class act on the field and off and we cannot wait to see her to impact our program next fall.”
2020 commit Chloe Landers (Glastonbury, Connecticut) was also named an All-American.
Outlook for 2019
Looking ahead to next season, Mazos will likely step right into the starting lineup. Since Rachel Hill and Stephanie Ribeiro graduated in 2016, UConn has lacked star power. They’ve had plenty of good, solid players but didn’t have any true elite talents. Hopefully, Mazos can change that.
The signing also fills a major position of need for the Huskies. They’ve lacked a strong presence in the midfield for a few seasons now and will probably target the position further in the 2019 recruiting class, especially with how attack-focused the rising sophomore and junior classes are.
If the midfield can be more solid this season, UConn should have a strong attack next season. The Huskies will get Kess Elmore and Vivien Beil back from ACL injuries that caused them to miss the 2018 season. The year prior, they were the top two goal scorers on the team.
On the wings, Sophia Danyko-Kulchycky had a breakout season with a team-high eight goals all while dealing with injuries throughout the year. Rising sophomores Pato Jerzak and Kara Long both showed promise with two goals apiece as well.
There’s enough attacking players that the offense will figure itself out, especially with a better midfield. That’s not much of a concern. Defense will be the bigger question mark.
Last season, UConn’s defense was one of the worst in the country, ranked at No. 311 (out of 333) in goals-against average. The defense was a revolving door last season as Rodriguez tried to find a combination that worked. Seniors Heidi Druehl and Liane Keegans played all but two minutes last season but beyond them, eight different players rotated into the backline.
Looking at the roster now, it’s hard to predict which players will step up. It’s possible they bring in a freshman or transfer that can solidify the backline. The Huskies will also be helped by a new goalkeeper, whether that be freshman Kelsey Kohler or a transfer. Kohler missed the year with an injury but all indications are that she’s the real deal.
Goalkeeper was likely the biggest weakness for UConn last season. Randi Palacios was the main starter, though Mollie Kerrigan saw three starts as well. Palacios can make impressive saves but she struggles with allowing soft goals as well communication (like organizing the defense). Kerrigan is plagued by similar issues. If Kohler is legit or a solid transfer comes in, that will likely be the biggest boost to the defense.
The team will be better next year, that’s a pretty safe bet. The Huskies return two of their best players from injury and Rodriguez will have a full season as a head coach under her belt. The question is how much better they’ll be.
UConn has the talent to compete for the AAC regular season title, which is what made this past year so baffling. At the same time, they fell so far last season that they could improve and still not be that good.
Ultimately, the Huskies will probably fall somewhere in between that. It’s reasonable to expect they finish above .500 and not have games where they either don’t show up or fall apart when facing some adversity. That would be a good building block season as Rodriguez continues to bring in her own recruits with the hope playing meaningful soccer late in the year in 2020 at the new Morrone Stadium.