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UMass looks to build after first win of 2009

P.J. StanleyMassachusetts men’s soccer coach Sam Koch isn’t a fan of turf fields, or as he calls it, “plastic grass.”

But for the second week in a row, the Minutemen will have to deal with that sort of playing environment.

UMass (1-3-1) will head to Loudonville, N.Y., this weekend to play Siena on Sept. 26. The Saints (4-2) already have experience playing Atlantic 10 teams on their home field this season, with the Minutemen being the third team to come to Siena Turf Field.

So far, Siena has fared well against A-10 teams, beating Rhode Island, 1-0, on Sept. 6, and a 3-2 victory over St. Bonaventure on Sept. 11.

Koch knows this weekend is going to be a challenge for his team, but the Minutemen have the comfort of coming off their first win against Northeastern last Saturday with a 1-0 victory. He believes this game should be a good non-conference test for his players, with it being the last road game before UMass opens its A-10 schedule.

“Their place is a very difficult place to play, but we’re playing a little bit better, and it will be a good test for us,” Koch said.

UMass currently has the league’s best defense, allowing four goals on the season, despite a rotating goalkeeper situation. Defense has always been a priority for the Minutemen, but this year, its effectiveness was in question because of how many new faces are in the back.

UMass lost three of its top four defenders in Daniel Lepone, Chris Brown and Stuart Thomson. Those positions have quickly been filled by freshman Dominic Skrajewski coming in alongside sophomores David Key and Andrew Henshaw (the only returning starter from last season).

As an added bonus, former Lehigh midfielder Mark Dangleis is starting to emerge as a solid fourth back, which will allow Koch to move midfielder Stuart Amick into his natural position.

So far this season the young defense has been successful at limiting opponents on the offensive end, with Skrajewski playing a major role in that.

He originally came to UMass as a midfielder, but Koch believes he is versatile enough to play in the back as well, and has so far made an impression on him.

“[Skrajewski] has got a great field presence,” Koch said. “He’s great in the air, and he wins pretty much every 50/50 ball, and he wins pretty much every header. He’s been a very strong presence in the back four, and he’s been that way since the beginning of the season.”

The inexperienced defense will have one of its biggest tests against an offensive-minded Siena squad. The Saints (10 goals) are tied with Iona as the top scoring team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Siena puts much of the scoring load on freshman Joe Tavernese and junior Daniel Alderstad, who each have three goals on the season. But the problem for the Minutemen is not so much the individual efforts for Siena as much as the way the Saints plays.

Siena generally has the entire team moving with the ball, which will make it hard to get numbers on defense, but also to find open opportunities on offense.

“They’re very organized,” Koch said. “They get everyone behind the ball, so we’re going to have to get behind their backs in order to find spaces for us.”

UMass will look to counter that with the return of Chris Vaccaro, who was previously out with an injury, but will return in time for Saturday’s game. The junior will fill-in at midfield to give the Minutemen some experience.  

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

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