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AT LAST: UConn Could Have A Star Player In The MLS

Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Tony Cascio give us hope.
UConn Huskie's mascot with both arms up.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 03: Jonathan the Husky, mascot for the Connecticut Huskies, performs against the Oregon State Beavers in the second quarter during the semifinals of the 2016 NCAA Women's Final Four Basketball Championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

UConn has a long tradition of producing MLS talent, but has been unable to have that one star who makes a name for himself in the league on a regular basis. Now, it seems, the Huskies have produced two players that may be able to become that star.

Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Tony Cascio were teammates for two seasons at UConn during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. They were selected six spots away from each in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, with Baptiste going eighth overall to Portland Timbers FC and Cascio being selected 14th overall by the Colorado Rapids. Right off the bat, both have seen their share of success in their short professional careers.

Baptiste was the first to get his career going. With the issues in the back for the Timbers, who started the season without defenders Futty Danso, Hanyer Mosquera, and David Horst, Baptiste was called upon by manager John Spencer to show why the second-year club drafted him so high. Despite making his share of mistakes, Baptiste has shown he has potential.

After an own goal early in the second half of his debut, which put the Philadelphia Union up 1-0 in front of the sold out crowd of nearly 21 thousand at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore., the former Husky headed home a free kick delivery from Jack Jewsbury to equalize three minutes later. Portland went on to win 3-1.

Baptiste has played in four of the Timbers' five matches. Critics have been quick to focus on mistakes in the back, especially after Portland gave up a 2-1 lead in the final minutes to lose 3-2 to Real Salt Lake. Baptiste took a lot of the responsibility and the critics agreed with him, but he is young. At only 19, he has the ability to learn quickly from the mishaps he has been part of and show why he was named the 2011 Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Spencer is one of the top coaches in MLS and would not be playing Baptiste and certainly would not have drafted him so high if he did not have the confidence that Ray Reid showed so often over his two years at Connecticut.

Cosmo certainly likes what they've seen so far. The rookie was ranked as one of MLS' most irresistible players on the magazine's website.

Cascio really impressed new Rapids manager Oscar Pareja in the preseason by netting four goals. His success earned him a spot in the starting lineup when the Rapids took on Columbus in the first match of the season. Cascio played the full 90 and was menacing coming down the left side in the attacking third, working hard to connect with teammates in front of the goal. He helped lead them to an opening round victory 2-0.

Cascio has appeared in all five games for Colorado, starting four of them. He has done everything he can to put goals on the board for the club. He is second on the team behind top scorer Omar Cummings with one goal on eight shots, three of which have forced the goalkeeper to work. The goal was a vital one for Colorado, who had just been forced to 10 men after a Jeff Larentowicz red card. Cascio won a ball on the wing and was able to get in one-on-one to beat Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, the same keeper who allowed Baptiste's first career goal. Cascio's recent performances earned him the honor of being named the Rookie of the Month by national soccer blogger Ives Galarcep.

There has been a lot of talk about the talent in this year's MLS rookie class. Certainly players like Cascio and Baptiste have helped add to that discussion.

It has been a quiet year for the rest of UConn's MLS players. With American goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller announcing early last season that he would be retiring from professional soccer, UConn fans were hopeful that that would open the door for 2011 Supplemental Draft Pick Josh Ford to take over in net for the Seattle Sounders.. UConn's all-time leader in nearly every goalkeeping category dealt with injuries last season and with the Sounders signing of Michael Gspurning as one of its allotted Designated Players over the winter, Ford's chances at becoming the starter were all but shattered. Now, a knee stress fracture has him out of action for the time being.

Colombus Crew defender Julius James is also out of action. The former Husky star is out indefinitely after a collapsed lung put him in the hospital. The Crew are unsure as to the timetable of James' return at the moment.

Kwame Watson-Siriboe returned to the Chicago Fire this season after spending last season on loan at Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League. However, the defender has yet to make an appearance this season. No injuries have been reported by the Fire, but especially with German defender Arne Friedrich ready to play soon, Watson-Siriboe's chances at finding time with the Fire squad may be limited.

Photo Credit: [Pamela Rentz] via Flickr