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Defense key as Minutemen near conference play

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team knows a thing or two about playing solid team defense.

UMass is one of the best defensive units in the Atlantic 10 so far this season, leading the league in goals allowed (4), goals-against average (0.60), while ranking second in shutouts with three. Even with some unfamiliar faces in the backfield, the Minutemen are nationally-ranked in team save percentage (.900) and  in goals against average (0.60).

Even with the accolades, UMass coach Sam Koch doesn’t want his team getting complacent.

 “As far as being the best defense in the A-10, I don’t know, because we haven’t played each other,” Koch said.

The Minutemen (2-1-3) open their conference schedule at Xavier (1-4-1) on Oct. 9, before playing Dayton (3-3-1) on Oct. 11.

Freshman Dominic Skrajewski and Brodie Steigerwald have seen substantial time on the field, while sophomores Sam DeNormandie, Michael Doherty, David Key and Mark Dangleis are contributing players on the defensive front.

Dangleis, a transfer from Lehigh, had a little trouble adjusting to the style that UMass plays, as it took time for him to mesh with the system.

 “He’s very dangerous offensively; he can cross the ball very well; he can shoot the ball very well, but his job here is the make sure the other team doesn’t score,” Koch said.

Koch sees Dangleis playing back as beneficial for the offensive unit both in changing the field and in the transition.

Along with this group, Koch has used junior Stuart Amick and Dangleis in both the midfield and defense to generate scoring chances for Ben Arikian and Mark DeSantis, while helping out in the backfield when opponents are in the Minutemen’s zone.

 “Stu is so dangerous in the attack and creates problems for other teams in the midfield, and he attacks [from the] left side as well as anyone we have had play here, and putting him back up there gives us a whole new dimension, that has opened up Arikian and DeSantis.”

With Amick most likely moving back to midfield; look for even fresher faces to come off the bench for Koch and to make an impact early.

Even with the offense looking to create more plays, the defense has been a staple of the Minutemen program for many years.

 “We stress defense, because defense wins championships, so were always defense first,” Koch said. “That’s the easiest thing for us to get them to understand, and then we build off our defense.”

Amick started his career with UMass as a midfielder in 2007 and made an impact in his first two seasons as a Minuteman. Ironically, Amick’s freshman year was the year that UMass made the College Cup, and Koch made a similar move, switching midfielder Doug Rappaport to the backfield.

The Minutemen are a team which historically, relied on dynamic defensive play, as goalie Zac Simmons and defenders Chris Brown, Kenny Cook and Trevor Singer helped UMass make it to the 2007 NCAA national semifinals.

 “Are we playing pretty good defense as far as I’m concerned, yes, we are, but we still aren’t doing everything we need too.”

Along with the defense, having two starting caliber goalkeepers in Shane-Curran Hays and Chris Piekos splitting time proposes match-up problems for opponents, especially Colgate.

 “It’s great to have two starting keepers, and both get better each week, and we don’t want to change anything if its not broken,” Koch said.

David Brinch can be reached at dbrinch@student.umass.edu.

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