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Notebook: UConn men’s soccer season in review; Andre Blake shines in MLS Playoffs

While some alumni are excelling in the pros, the current team finished another uninspired season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn men’s soccer team ended with a whimper last month as the Huskies dropped their last two games, including a 2-1 loss to Xavier at home and an away loss to No. 2 Georgetown. UConn finished the fall with an uninspired 7-7-2, (2-6-2 Big East) record.

Let’s get the ugly truth out of the way. UConn finished 10th in the conference, worse than the preseason projection of t-8. The Huskies tied DePaul for fewest goals scored and were 2-5-1 in the shiny new Morrone Stadium.

They haven’t had a winning season since 2018 — their only time making the NCAA Tournament in the last six years. The Goal Patrol — UConn’s fan section that routinely leads the COUNTRY in attendance and did so again this year— deserves better. Connecticut soccer as a whole is criminally underrated, but when the flagship university can’t field a successful team, it’s hard to complain about the lack of nationwide respect.

I mean, the team website still has the American Athletic Conference link! Cue the Taylor Twellman GIF:

With that out of the way, let’s look on the bright side. Freshman Mateo Leveque was named Big East’s Rookie of the Year. Sophomores Jayden Reid and Moussa Wade were second on the team in points and are hopefully returning. Freshman forward Okiem Chime led the team with four goals and will be a factor up top.

The Huskies will lose midfield metronome Felix Metzler and forward Dominic Laws, but freshman Bjorn Nikolajewski flashed as a centre-back and sophomore Ben Awashie can absorb some of Laws’ production. All of this is to say the Huskies were young in 2021, took their lumps, and could be back where they belong in 2022.

The Big East also proved to be a veritable cauldron of intensity, sending five teams to the NCAA Tournament, the most since 2013. Creighton, Providence, St. John’s and Villanova will joined the Hoyas dancing. Providence —which fell to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament final — finished the final United Soccer Coaches poll ranked No. 18, while Villanova and St. John’s each garnered votes. UConn went 0-3-2 against these teams, and conceded last second goals in two of those results (the Villanova loss and Creighton tie). It’s difficult for a young team to gain footing in what turns out to be a rugged conference.

Even more impressive, all four Big East teams playing in first round games advanced. Providence got to the Sweet Sixteen before bowing out to Georgetown, while the Hoyas face West Virginia on Dec. 4 with a third-straight trip to the Final Four on the line.

Alumni report

While the current program treads water, UConn alums continue to shine. Andre Blake has manned the posts for Philadelphia since the Union took him with their No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft back in 2014 and he’s rewarded the club with two Goalkeeper of the Year awards, three All-Star games, and 52 shutouts.

On Nov. 28, Blake delivered two jaw-dropping saves in a penalty shootout against Nashville that sent the Union through to the next round. Blake and the Union are now in the conference finals for the first time, taking on a to-be-determined opponent on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Not to be outdone, Cyle Larin started hot in 2021, stayed hot, and is ending his breakout year—you guessed it — hot. The Canadian international leads the CONCACAF with 11 goals this calendar year, and has the Canucks top of the table in the World Cup Qualifying Octagonal table.

Larin’s brace against Mexico last month not only gave Canada its first win over Mexico in 21 years, it also tied him for first all-time in goals scored for Canada. With 22 goals in just 44 appearances, who says no to Larin running for Prime Minister when Justin Trudeau’s term is up?

Elsewhere, the following Huskies have wrapped up their American campaigns:

Defender Jake Nerwinski turned in a fine campaign for the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS. The defender started in 19 of the 26 matches and played 73 minutes in Vancouver’s playoff loss to Kansas City. He had one goal on the season.

Defender Nkosi Tafari had a breakout year, starting in 20 of 21 games for FC Dallas and logged one goal and two assists.

Winger Dayonn Harris now plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, an USL side that just lost in the championship game to Orange County FC 3-1. Harris was subbed on in the second half. Forward Abdou Mbacke Thiam saw limited action for the USL’s Louisiville City FC after suffering a broken leg early in the season. Goalkeeper Austin Aviza saw one game for the Richmond Kickers in the USL.