STORRS, Conn. – The UConn men’s soccer program welcomes 11 incoming players for the upcoming 2017 season, which poses a difficult challenge against some of the premiere collegiate soccer teams in the country.
Transfers David Abunaw (Bryant University), Austin Aviza (Syracuse University) and Dayon Harris (Penn State) team up with a group of eight freshmen players to form the new crop of talent for the Huskies, under 21-year head coach Ray Reid.
Top goal scorer Abdou Mbacke Thiam returns for his junior season, while redshirt senior Scott Levene resumes his post as goalkeeper in 2017, but the 11 new players will add depth at every position for UConn.
Recently ranked No. 24 in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll, the Huskies look to achieve their 22nd-straight winning season as a program.
With the addition of both young and experienced talent, the Huskies look to compete against a tough schedule of opponents – including a marquee matchup with No. 6 Maryland on Oct. 2 at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.
Abunaw (West Hartford, Conn.) and Harris (Milton, Ontario) join Thiam and junior DeAndrae Brown (Springfield, Mass.) at the striker position, strengthening the Huskies up front after they outscored opponents by an average of 0.58 goals in 2016.
Most recently at Bryant, Abunaw played in 28 of a possible 32 games for the Bulldogs, finishing with one goal and two assists. He attended the University of Hartford for two years as well, without seeing time on the field.
Harris comes to UConn after two years at Penn State, where he started all 18 games as a sophomore and scored three goals with a pair of assists. His highlight was a game-winner at Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, 2016. He also has competed for the U-20 Canadian National Team.
The Huskies picked up a lot of help at midfield, with the additions of freshmen Blaise N’Gague (Lyon, France), Josh Burnett (Glen Ridge, N.J.), Jarod Riedl (New Milford, Conn.) and Cole Venner (Burlington, Vt.) this offseason.
After losing Kwame Awuah to the MLS SuperDraft this past January, UConn was able to fill the hole with young players to join senior Cheikh Stephane Coly, as well as sophomores Niko Petridis and Munir Saleh – both of whom were selected for the 2016 American Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team.
N’Gague comes with international playing experience, having competed with the Chad National Team, while Venner was a two-time All-American Watchlist player at the Berkshire School. Riedl becomes one of 13 players on the team that hail from the state of Connecticut.
Burnett comes to UConn as the No. 31 recruit in College Soccer News and No. 43 recruit in Top Drawer Soccer. He also starred for the U-17 Trinidad National Team in 2015 during qualifying, as well as competed for the U.S. U-18 National Team under head coach Omid Namazi.
Jake Nerwinski, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, also left a gap for the Huskies to replace – this time in the backfield. The return of several key players, as well as the debuts of freshmen Nicolas Apostol (Coquitlam, B.C.) and Nick DeMaso (Fairfield, Conn.), will help UConn’s defensive efforts.
Apostol, a player on the Canadian U-18 National Team who made his USL debut at the age of 17, will help the Huskies pick up where they left off in 2016. UConn allowed just 0.79 goals per game, putting it in the top 25 among all Division I teams in the country.
DeMaso attended Fairfield Ludlowe High School, earning three letters in soccer and being named All-FCIAC as a junior and senior. He will be playing with the experienced backfield of redshirt senior Andrew Geres, redshirt junior Dylan Greenberg and junior Jacob Hauser-Ramsey to help out Levene between the posts.
Levene is rejoined by redshirt freshmen Alex Botazzi and Bailey Bassett at the goalkeeper position, but also by Aviza, who spent his first two seasons at Syracuse. Aviza started the first nine matches for the Orange as a freshman in 2015, recording three shutouts.
Originally from Medway, Mass., Aviza logged playing time with the club team for the New England Revolution, as well as for the U.S. U-17 and U-18 National Teams.
Reid welcomes each of the 11 newcomers to the men’s soccer program and will look for them to make a quick impact. UConn had its first practice on Wednesday as a team, following meetings on Tuesday. The preseason has officially kicked-off.