March 13, 2013

The path of UConn

By Kyle McCarthy

Max Wasserman (Farmington, Conn.) started at UConn’s third-round NCAA tournament game vs. New Mexico. (Photo: UConn Athletics)

STORRS, Conn. — University of Connecticut coach Ray Reid sat a chair and held court after his Huskies survived a stern challenge from New Mexico in the third round of the NCAA tournament in late November.

Reid lauded the Lobos for their desire to engage in such a wide-open affair instead of sitting back and holding out for a result. He noted that he didn’t think his players or his program received the respect it deserved on a national scale. He praised his players for finding a way to win a difficult game in overtime. He even took a moment to field a question about the importance of his Connecticut contingent to the program’s success.

“The more Connecticut players, the better for me,” Reid said with a laugh.

It wasn’t difficult to explain the veteran coach’s appreciation for players from the Nutmeg State in this particular set of circumstances. He named Colin Bradley (West Hartford, Conn.) and Max Wasserman (Farmington, Conn.) in his starting lineup. He threw Nick Zuniga (Norwalk, Conn.) into the mix off the bench.

While Bradley played his part in central midfield and Wasserman posed problems on the overlap from his right back spot, Zuniga warranted most of the attention for deciding the match in the second overtime. The freshman forward displayed the scoring touch that earned him All-New England honors during his time at Norwalk High School to collect his first college goal and hand the Huskies a 2-1 victory on the day.

Zuniga’s cool finish from a tidy Carlos Alvarez through ball atoned for his previous misses on the day and inspired Reid to compare him to a former UConn winger currently establishing himself as a fixture with the Colorado Rapids.

“I said this in preseason: This guy’s like Tony Cascio,” Reid said. “Tony didn’t play much in his first year and then O’Brian (White, former UConn forward) did his ACL. Cascio came on for him and scored three straight game-winning goals. We beat Virginia and we were up, 1-0, at Creighton with two minutes to go before we lost in overtime. Nick’s going to be good.”

Zuniga has some work to do to match the contributions already submitted by Bradley and Wasserman during their careers in Storrs. Both players worked their way up through the Connecticut youth ranks with Oakwood SC to place themselves in a position to earn a place in Reid’s program and emerge regular starters for their state university.

Wasserman completed his impressive four-year spell with the Huskies in the 1-0 defeat to Creighton in the NCAA quarterfinals Dec. 2. He carved out a starting role in his final two years and established himself as one of the better fullbacks in the Big East with his performances. Those personal achievements did little to salve the wounds created by losing his final game at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.

“I never thought I’d feel this way, ever in my life,” Wasserman told reporters after his final match. “There’s not much to say. This is the best group of guys I’ve ever been around. It’s a shame.”

Bradley, a redshirt junior, will hope to pick up the pieces for the Huskies next year alongside Zuniga and the other six Connecticut natives set to return to Reid’s cosmopolitan group next season. The former Connecticut high school player of the year stepped right into the starting lineup after his redshirt season. His assured showings in central midfield have prompted Reid to start him in each of his 67 appearances for the Huskies.

The ex-Avon Old Farms star will hope to continue that streak as the Huskies gear up for yet another run toward College Cup in 2013. He will look to standout goalkeeper Andre Blake and prolific forward Mamadou Doudou Diouf (15 goals in 2012) to drive those efforts. He will do his part to continue the lengthy record of success for one of the country’s top teams.

In this program, the best local players combine with talented imports from across the country and around the world to comprise the squad. But, as Reid so cleverly noted, the task of assembling a successful team simplifies considerably when he can rely on a core of Connecticut players to help push the process along.