Aug. 11, 2012
STORRS, Conn. - Connecticut men's soccer will open the preseason with an exhibition against UMass on Sunday, August 12 at 7 p.m. at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. Admission is free to all fans.
The Huskies are ranked No. 4 in the NSCA Preseason poll after finishing the 2011 season at 19-3-3 and advancing to the NCAA Quarterfinals. UConn was recently selected as the preseason favorite in the BIG EAST Blue Division. UMass finished 2011 at 4-13-3.
Continue reading for a detailed preview of the upcoming season along with information on the newcomers to the UConn men's soccer family in 2012.
After finishing 2011 with a 19-3-3 record and advancing to the program's 12th NCAA Quarterfinal, the 2012 Connecticut men's soccer team returns eight starters, two All-Americans and four All-BIG EAST selections. The returning talent combined with a dynamic recruiting class warrants UConn's spot on any list of national title contenders.
The team returns the top statistical performers from last season, but also welcomes back the leaders from a year ago both on and off the field.
"Our senior leadership is very important. With Jozy and Carlos, Stephane, Max, we have great leaders on this team," said head coach Ray Reid, entering his 16th season at the helm of UConn soccer. "These guys have been here for four years, they know what's at stake now."
The seniors on the 2012 squad have been to three NCAA Tournaments, tallied three BIG EAST All-Rookie selections, six All-BIG EAST honors, one All-America selection and have claimed one BIG EAST Regular Season Championship. The current group of seniors has lost at home just two times in 35 games at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.
Connecticut comes into the season with the NCAA's second-longest active home unbeaten streak at 25 games, behind reigning National Champion North Carolina's 26-game home unbeaten streak. The Huskies have not lost a game at Morrone Stadium since November 7, 2009.
UConn will be challenged through the season with seven games against teams which won their respective conference regular season or competed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The schedule opens with a home match against St. Francis (NY) on August 25 at 7 p.m.
"Honestly, this year's schedule may be tougher than last year's," said Reid, whose team will play five matches against teams that competed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. "Dartmouth is a very good team, NCAA team. St. Francis can't be overlooked. Michigan St. had a down year but a very, very good team. Yale we beat with seconds left in overtime and they return nine starters. Boston College had a NO. 1 seed and BU is always difficult. Washington was the last team left out of the NCAA Tournament."
UConn's match against Washington on September 7 will air live on Fox Soccer Channel as the NSCAA Game of the Week.
Connecticut will once again host St. John's in one of the nation's fiercest rivalries on September 22. The Huskies hosted St. John's in 2011 in front of a sell-out crowd of 5,100 fans and came away with a convincing 2-0 victory. The Red Storm returned the favor with a 1-0 overtime victory over UConn in the BIG EAST Championship in November.
While the Huskies return eight starters, the back line suffered the largest departure with two starters moving on to the professional ranks. Senior right back Nickardo Blake and sophomore central defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste started all 25 games. Blake was chosen in the MLS Supplemental draft while Jean-Baptiste, the 2011 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, left for the MLS after two years in Storrs. He was selected No. 8 overall by the Portland Timbers.
"Yea, those guys were terrific players, big, athletic. It's tough to replace that," said Reid. "We're looking at Jozy in the back, Sean Weir, Max should have a good year. Mike Mercado has a year under his belt now. Plus we have some good guys coming in with Sergio Campbell, Kareem Morad. Hopefully Flo Lie will be in the mix with Will Noiset, Jonathan Goodridge. We'll figure out a way to do it this year."
Mercado played every minute of every game in his first season. The junior defender started all 25 games at center back. Wasserman started 16 games before his season was cut short due to an injury. Both players are expected to be major players for the UConn defense in 2012.
Senior Jossimar Sanchez could find time in the central defense in 2012 after being named All-BIG EAST Third Team in each of the past two seasons. Sean Weir stepped into a starting role at left back for the postseason and was part of a defense that limited opponents to just four goals in seven games in the BIG EAST and NCAA Tournaments.
Along with returning defenders Goodridge, Noiset and Istvan Kanyo, UConn will welcome four newcomers to the defense. Ray Reid added another product from junior college power Mt. San Antonio College as Kareem Morad (Chino Hills, Calif.) follows the path of Michael Mercado from California to Storrs. Morad helped lead Mt. Sac to a No. 1 national ranking in 2011.
A pair of defenders with international experience will join the ranks in 2012 with the additions of Sergio Campbell (Clarendon, Jamaica) and Dwight Ceballo (Arouca, Trinidad). Campbell, a transfer from the University of Central Arkansas, has spent several years in the Jamaican National Team program and previously competed with the senior squad in the 2010 Caribbean Championships.
Ceballo has competed with the Trinidad and Tobago U-15, U-16, U17 and U-10 national teams while attending ST. Anthony's College in Trinidad. While at St. Anthony's competing in the Trinidad Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL), Ceballo was named SSFL 2010 Defender of the Year and the league MVP in 2010 and 2011.
Local product Jesse Wasserman (Farmington, Conn.), younger brother of senior defender Max Wasserman, will fill out the defensive unit. Wasserman competed with Oakwood Academy and attended Loomis Chaffee Prep in Windsor, Conn. Wasserman is a two-time All-State selection and a member of the Connecticut Olympic Development Program.
Connecticut will begin 2012 with arguably the most dynamic and dominant midfield in the BIG EAST Conference. Led by senior All-American Carlos Alvarez, the Huskies will likely start three seniors and a redshirt junior in the midfield. Alvarez, a Second Team All-BIG EAST selection in 2011 and a First-Team choice in 2010, has led the league in assists in two of his three seasons in Storrs. This past season, he was named an NSCAA Second Team All-American after notching six goals and eight assists for 20 points.
Two-time All-BIG EAST Third Team honoree Jossimar Sanchez enters his final season along with Stephane Diop, a 2010 All-BIG EAST Second Team selection. Sanchez, Diop and Alvarez were all members of the 2009 BIG EAST All-Rookie Team and were key figures in UConn's last BIG EAST Regular Season Championship in 2009. The fourth and final piece of the UConn midfield, redshirt junior Colin Bradley, has started 45 straight matches as a holding midfielder.
The Huskies will also look for added input from junior Juho Karppinen along with increased roles for senior Flo Liu and redshirt sophomore Chris O'Brien.
Newcomers to the midfield include Adria Beso (Lleida, Spain), Jon-Luke Ferrandino (New Canaan, Conn.), George Fochive (Silver Spring, Md.) and Christian Porras (Rockville, Md.).
Beso will join the Huskies with three years of eligibility remaining after competing in Spain with the Villarreal youth system. Fochive, a junior transfer from Division II Hawaii Pacific University was named to the NSCAA All-West Region Second Team and was also a member of the All-PacWest First Team.
Ferrandino, a local product out of New Canaan High, was named All-State in 2011. Ferrandino trained with the New Jersey Soccer Academy under legendary U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos. Porras comes to Storrs after competing with the Baltimore Bays. Porras led the Bays to the 2010 Youth National Championship and was a member of the Region I Olympic Development Program.
UConn finished the season ranked tied for the league lead in goals scored (40) and finished second in total points (114) in 2011. The front line will have to compensate for the loss of senior All-American Tony Cascio. After four years in Storrs, Cascio was selected No. 14 overall by the Colorado Rapids in the MLS SuperDraft. Cascio, a 2010 First Team All-American and the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year, finished 2011 with 18 points on five goals and eight assists.
The Huskies return a pair of dynamic finishes in junior Mamadou Doudou Diouf and sophomore Allando Matheson who combined for 17 goals and eight game-winning tallies. Diouf was selected to the All-BIG EAST First Team in 2011 after leading the Huskies with 28 points on 13 goals and two assists. Diouf was recently named the BIG EAST Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Matheson scored four goals on the season, all serving as game winners.
Senior Jake Bourgault and sophomore Tyler Leeman will look for added playing time in their second years on campus. They'll be joined up top by freshman Nicholas Zuniga (Norwalk, Conn.). Zuniga was named All-New England and All-State in 2011 at Norwalk High after notching 17 goals and 10 assists as a senior.
UConn has a storied tradition of All-American goalkeepers under Ray Reid from Bryheem Hancock in 2001 to Josh Ford in 2010. The list expanded in 2011 with the immediate impact of Andre Blake. As a freshman, Blake was named an NSCAA Third Team All-American after leading the Huskies to a 19-3-3 record. Blake was a member of the All-BIG EAST First Team and led UConn to a school record 16 shutouts (15 individual shutouts). He became the first freshman in BIG EAST men's soccer history to take home a major conference award when he was crowned BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year. The unanimous 2012 Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year finished second in the nation with a 0.39 goals against average and recorded nine-straight shutouts spanning 961:32 of scoreless soccer.
Connecticut continued to improve the team chemistry with a foreign trip this past spring to Toronto. In Toronto, the Huskies compete in three games, saw all the sights and spent quality time as a family.
"You get 10 days of practice in May before you leave and then 10 days in Canada of practice and games, so you pick up three weeks," said Reid. "You have your full team together, you play better competition, and you're playing away from home in unfamiliar environments. Especially for the new players who were freshmen or transfers last August, it's the end of a year and now you can see things clicking in."
With a deep and talented group heading into the preseason, the 2012 UConn men's soccer team will have all the pieces needed for a deep run into the postseason.