Offense looking to balance with defense
In both of its two runs to the NCAA Tournament, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team was better known for its defense that could shut down opponents, while its offense did enough to keep the Minutemen (1-3-1) in games.
This year, the offense has seen a drought in its first five games, even by its own standards. The Minutemen (1-3-1) are dead last in the Atlantic 10 with three goals on the season. Last season, UMass relied on help from Mike DeSantis and Prince Ofosu for nine combined goals, but with both graduating, the Minutemen are now searching for someone else to step up.
Early on, that someone looked to be sophomore Chris Roswess. In the Minutemen’s first and only pre-season game against Adelphi, he tallied both goals in their 2-1 victory.
Since then, Roswess has yet to score during the regular season, although he did pick up another two scores in UMass’s latest exhibition against Winstars.
“He’s certainly dangerous every time he steps on the field,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “He’s created some good opportunities and he’s scored in some games that haven’t counted, but now we need him to score in games that do count.”
Assistant coach Roy Fink, who works as an offensive specialist, believes that he has the potential to replace some of the scoring load missing from the graduated players, but part of his effectiveness is having other players step up as well.
“Chris is a very technical and good player, and he’s almost going by himself on top, but he’s getting a lot of focus from the defenders,” Fink said.
The last time UMass had this slow of a start was in 1998, when it also had three goals in five games.
That team was shut-out three times before it scored its first goal of the season against Maine, and continued to struggle, posting a 4-12-2 record.
UMass is already in better shape than the 1998 team with its first win coming last weekend against Northeastern, and has also has the A-10’s best defense with four goals.
But as Koch knows, defense only goes so far. In last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen kept Harvard scoreless for all of regulation. It wasn’t until Crimson forward Andre Apkan scored the golden goal in the 103rd minute that knocked UMass out of the tournament.
UMass also lost the A-10 Championship to Dayton despite giving up one goal.
“Part of the object in soccer is to score goals,” Fink said. “But we are traditionally a very good, solid defensive team, and then we sit back and relax and wait for the counter.”
Koch believes that part of the key to improving the offense is to have a more balanced attack, rather than to rely on Roswess to break-out.
“I think everyone on our team has to be a leading scorer,” Koch said. “[Roswess] is certainly one of our target players. He’s certainly one of our attacking players, but we have a number of players who can take that role.”
One of those players is Stuart Amick, who earlier in the season has helped fill in the back four on defense. With sophomore Mark Dangleis stepping up on defense, Amick will likely move into the midfield, which is where he’s played most of his career as a Minuteman.
If Saturday’s game against the Huskies is any indicator for what that move could entail for the Minutemen, they should be encouraged. Koch made the switch in the second half to give his team more support offensively, and midfielder Ben Arikian delivered to give UMass its first win of the season.
Adam Miller can be reached at email@example.com.