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Goalkeeper competition heats up

Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Sam Koch thought he had his goalkeeper situation figured out.

After Zack Simmons graduated, the job would belong to Shane Curran-Hays, who spent the first part of his career on the bench.

The redshirt sophomore was sure to have his chance in 2009, but a knee injury during the summer opened up the battle to last year’s third-stringer, Chris Piekos.

The junior transferred after one year at Rivier College and doesn’t exactly have the soccer pedigree of most of his teammates. Piekos has no club soccer experience, and spent his off-seasons playing golf, baseball and lacrosse.

But what Piekos lacks in his soccer background, he makes up for in life experience.

Piekos, 25, spent time with the Marine Special Forces in Iraq prior to starting his collegiate career, and earned a Bronze star during his two deployments.

Since the competition opened up, his experience has helped him make an impression on Koch.

Curran-Hays, 20, grew up with soccer. His father, Michael, played at UNC-Greensboro, and his brother, Connor, is currently playing at Robert Morris.

In high school, Curran-Hays was a three-time all-conference selection and registered 14 shut-outs in 22 games during his senior year, while leading his club team to a national championship. He received several scholarship offers from other Division I schools, but ultimately decided to compete with Simmons for the goalkeeper job.

Curran-Hays would suit up most games, but only to help Simmons stay warm or to be available if he ever got injured.

Gaining the experience of being under the wing of one of the nation’s best keepers has its benefits, however.

Curran-Hays is now more accustomed to being a part of the Minutemen’s system in his third year, despite never starting a game. Curran-Hays has the experience of watching Simmons lead UMass to two NCAA Tournament bids, including a College Cup.

The differences between the two keepers are just one of many reasons why Koch has yet to make up his mind.

The cancelled scrimmage against No. 12 Connecticut took away a game that would have helped Koch’s assessment. The Connecticut game would have likely given Curran-Hays one pre-season start, while Piekos started the first exhibition match against Adelphi. 

Piekos played in the home-opener against No. 24 Boston University and Friday against New Hampshire, while Curran-Hays started in the Hartford and Vermont matches.

So far, Piekos has put up better statistics (one goal, .933 save percentage) compared to Curran-Hays (three goals, .769 save percentage), but the competition extends beyond the numbers.

“Shane [Curran-Hays] has paid his dues and sat behind Zack [Simmons] for a number of years so Shane [Curran-Hays] deserves to get games,” Koch said. “But Piekos is proving that he also deserves to get games.”

Koch praises Curran-Hays as a communicator because of his soccer experience and his close relationship with Simmons during his first two seasons. Curran-Hays also has a strong comfort level with the team, making it easier for him to control the defense.    

Curran-Hays does a better job at coming out for crosses, which have limited opponents to 33 shots, compared to Piekos’ 35 shots.

Piekos, on the other hand, is more of a shot-blocker, which partially explains his numbers.

Although both certainly have their strengths, Koch knows that he can’t go all season rotating keepers. He plans to make a decision shortly after UMass plays Siena on Sept. 26, but he said even that date isn’t definite.

“Both of them have done outstanding jobs,” Koch said. “The goalkeeper situation is a great problem to have and they continue to battle.”

Adam Miller can be reached at ajmil0@student.umass.edu.

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