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Season Preview: Experienced Men's Soccer Squad Heads Into 2005 Ready To Defend BIG EAST Title

STORRS, Conn. – Coming off the program’s fifth BIG EAST Tournament championship in 2004, the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team heads into the 2005 season with high hopes and the tenacity to achieve great things in the coming months. Led by Ray Reid, the winningest active coach in the NCAA, the Huskies boast one of the most talented and deepest rosters in recent history and are set to contend for the BIG EAST and NCAA Championships this fall.

Nine starters return from last year’s squad that kept opponents scoreless throughout the conference tournament, including All-BIG EAST honorees Julius James (Maloney Gardens, Trinidad), Mpho Moloi (Soweto, South Africa), Chukwudi Chijindu (Fontana, Calif.) and Willis Forko (Houston, Texas).

In addition to the strong core of returnees, the Huskies welcome a small, but extremely talented recruiting class that was tagged in the top 20 by College Soccer News prior to the season. Eight freshman from four states and three countries join the Huskies this fall and are expected to make immediate contributions in the 2005 campaign.

“We have a great group of new players coming in,” Reid said. “A few of them are expected to make an instant impact and they’ll really be important to increasing our depth and extending our strengths.”

With the loss of just four seniors, 20 players with game experience return to provide the Huskies with a more pronounced depth than the team has seen in quite some time with youthful exuberance left back in 2004, the experienced veterans are set to move forward with their lessons learned.

“I think the players really learned last year that it’s important to start off strong straight from the blocks,” Reid said. “They know that we can’t squander the early games because it will hurt the team down the stretch with seeding in the NCAA Tournament and the chance to have home field advantage.”

Taking advantage of every opportunity for success will be crucial, as the Huskies are set to embark on one of the toughest schedules in the country. Before the season is even underway, UConn will face two national semifinalist teams from a year ago in ACC powerhouses Maryland and Duke in preseason action.

“We want to face the best possible opponents in the preseason,” Reid said. “We’ll really know what level this team is capable of playing at as we head into the regular season to face some incredibly talented teams in one of the toughest conferences in the country.”

The regular season gets underway with the annual UConn/adidas Soccer Classic Labor Day Weekend at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in Storrs, Conn. The tournament field of Brown, St. Peter’s and Hartwick will face off with games on Friday, Sept. 2 and Sunday, Sept. 4. Tournament action will continue the following weekend as the Huskies head to Brown to square off against George Mason (9/9) and UNC-Greensboro (9/11). The Spartans from UNCW went undefeated through 17 games last season and finished the year with a record of 19-3-1 with a 1-0 overtime loss to UC-Santa Barbara in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

UConn opens BIG EAST action the weekend of Sept. 16-18 with a road contests versus conference newcomers Cincinnati (9/16) and Louisville (9/18) before returning home for seven of the next eight games. Highlighted by a visit from NCAA Quarterfinalist St. John’s, the Huskies play host to the Red Storm (9/23), Syracuse (9/25), Sacred Heart (9/28), Marquette (10/1) and Providence (10/5) during a five-game homestand. After making a brief road trip to take on Notre Dame (10/8), UConn returns to Storrs for games against Pittsburgh (10/15) and Brown (10/19).

The Huskies then head back out on the road to face Seton Hall (10/22) and West Virginia (10/26). The contest versus the Pirates will be a rematch of the 2004 BIG EAST Championship, where the Huskies earned the trophy on a 5-3 penalty kick decision after playing to a scoreless tie through 110 minutes of action. Georgetown will visit UConn on October 29 to wrap up the regular season for both teams before the conference tournament.

The 2005 BIG EAST Men’s Soccer Championship will feature the top 12 of the league’s 16 teams. The top six teams in each division, seeded by conference point total, qualify for the Conference Championship. The top two teams in each division earn a first round bye to the quarterfinals. The first round and quarterfinal games will be held on the campus of the higher seeded team. First round games will be held on Nov. 2-3, with the Quarterfinals following on Nov. 5-6. UConn will serve as host for the semifinals (Nov. 11) and the championship game (Nov. 13). Selection and seeding are based on regular season conference records. The champion receives the league’s automatic bid to the 48-team NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship.

Sophomores Chukwudi Chijindu (Fontana, Calif.) and Bonginkosi Macala (Pretoria, South Africa) lead the offensive charge as the top two scorers from last season. Chijindu led the team with six goals and four assists for 16 points, while Macala was not far behind with five goals and four assists for 14 points. Both players earned BIG EAST Rookie of the Week honors for their respective performances throughout the year last season and Chijindu finished the year with third team All-BIG EAST accolades. Joining Chijindu and Macala in the top-scoring ranks is junior Steve Sealy (St. James, Trinidad), who finished the 2004 season with five goals, four of which were game-winning tallies.

Returning sophomore letterwinners Caesar Lopez (Orlando, Fla.) and Pat Halligan (Falmouth, Maine) could also see some time on the front line in 2005.

Charged with a defensive mindset, while still recognizing the need for a strong offensive attack, the midfield line is one of the deepest positions for the Huskies. Senior and three-year captain Mpho Moloi (Soweto, South Africa) will continue to lead the midfield with his defensive abilities and athletic skills, while fellow senior Drew Brown (Middletown, Conn.) adds a wealth of experience from the last three years.

Kevin Burns (Greenfield, Ind.), who started 14 of the last 15 games in 2004, is expected to continue moving forward and stepping into a larger role in his junior season. Sophomore Ryan Cordeiro (Highland Mills, N.Y.) is also projected to see considerable playing time this season after taking part in 20 games last year, while fellow sophomore David Fromayan (Bay Shore, N.Y.) will also make inroads into seeing some time in the midfield.

Joining the veterans in them midfield are freshmen Dori Arad (Hahotrim, Israel), Joe Boa (Brookfield, Conn.), Stephen Cenatiempo (Norwalk, Conn.) and O’Brian White (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada), who could all see some time in the midfield this season.

The defensive backfield remains intact from the line last year that allowed just 0.83 goals against average and helped produce eight shutouts for the Huskies. As the most experienced and talent-rich position on the field, the line provide a strong group of players that command control of the ball both in the air and on the ground, making the Huskies one of the toughest teams to score against.

“We have incredible defensive strength,” Reid said. “This group is experienced and knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses so they’re able to play tough and play together.”

Sophomore Julius James (Maloney Gardens, Trinidad) anchors the unit after garnering second team All-BIG EAST, first team All-New England and College Soccer News All-Freshmen All-American accolades last season, while senior Willis Forko (Houston, Texas), a third team All-BIG EAST selection, will provide the experience and guidance for the defensive line after starting all 23 games last season in the backfield.

Junior Moshe Shalchon (Rishon Lezioh, Israel), who also started every game in 2004, and sophomore Karl Schilling (Canton, Conn.) are expected to make huge contributions on the field after playing strong down the stretch in 2004 and working hard in the offseason. Schilling worked his way into the starting lineup after 15 games last season and finished the year as the Defensive MVP of the BIG EAST Tournament.

Newcomers Grayson Glass (Auburn, Calif.) and Abe Chehebar (Briarcliff, N.Y.) will both work for playing time in the backfield in their first collegiate seasons.

Adam Schuerman
(Brookfield, Wis.) enters his fourth season as starting goalkeeper after a strong spring season and work-filled offseason. Schuerman finished the 2004 campaign with a 0.96 goals against average and a .679 save percentage through 18 games. The veteran keeper will look to guide sophomore goalie Brett Pollack (New Rochelle, N.Y.) and newcomer Alex Horwath (Woodbine, Md.) as they work to get the necessary collegiate experience to take over the reigns next season. Horwath comes to UConn after an impressive high school career at McDonough where he led the team four conference finals and received numerous state and conference honors.