Owls, Hawks fly to Rudd
The Massachusetts men’s soccer team begins its five-game home stand against Temple and Saint Joseph’s this weekend without starting forward Mark DeSantis.
The senior was out of Wednesday’s practice with an undisclosed illness, and missed the start of the Atlantic 10 schedule against Xavier and Dayton. UMass coach Sam Koch said he didn’t know when to expect his captain to return, but is not expecting him to play this weekend.
Without DeSantis’s help, UMass split its first two games of the A-10 schedule on the road. The Minutemen (4-3-3, 1-1-0 A-10) come off 1-0 win over the Musketeers before losing a 1-0 double-overtime game to the Flyers in similar fashion to last year’s A-10 Championship match.
“We want to put our hearts back together,” UMass coach Sam Koch said of his team’s recent loss to Dayton. “We want to bounce back and focus on things that make us a good team.”
With a week’s worth of rest, the Minutemen now have to turn their attention to this weekend at Rudd Field.
UMass holds a slight edge over the Owls with a 10-9-2 record.
Although the series with Temple is close, the Owls have the edge from the last time the two teams met. The Owls came out with a 1-0 victory in Philadelphia the last time they played the Minutemen in 2007.
However, UMass will need to ignore history if it expects to beat Temple (6-3-1, 1-0-0 A-10) on Friday. The Owls are one of the hottest teams in the A-10, as they are in the midst of a five-game winning streak, with their last loss coming at home on Sept. 18 against Navy.
Temple’s strength comes from an offensive tandem featuring midfielders Tyler Witmer and J.T. Noone. Witmer leads the team in goals (four), while Noone leads the A-10 in assists (seven).
Noone’s play-making abilities have made him a Hermann Trophy candidate along with UMass midfielder Ben Arikian, who will have to help the defense stop Noone from creating opportunities on offense.
“Our midfield has to step up and do a better job controlling the midfield than we did on Sunday,” Koch said, pointing to the Owls’ strength.
But if UMass really hopes to hold off the Owl attack, it will need help from goalkeeper Chris Piekos, who despite giving up a goal against Dayton, has the A-10’s best goals against average (0.30) and save percentage (.943). He not only has taken over the A-10 as the best keeper, he is also considered as one of the best in the NCAA.
In his last game against the Flyers, Piekos finished with a season-high of eight saves, and will need a similar effort if he hopes to duplicate his success so far against a team with a strong offense.
“[Temple] is coming in having played very well, and they’re a tough opponent,” Koch said. “They’re the next opponent, so they’re the most important game we have to worry about.”
On Sunday, the Minutemen play the A-10’s worst team in St. Joseph’s. The Hawks (0-9-0, 0-1-0 A-10) will try for their first win, although with the way they have fared thus far, having any sort of success against UMass will be difficult.
SJU is at the bottom of the conference in goals allowed (29) and goals scored (four). Their goal against Temple in an Oct. 10 loss was the first time in nearly a month that the Hawks scored against an opponent. Prior to that game, they were shut-out three times and allowed 10 goals.
Historically, the Minutemen have done well against St. Joe’s with a 14-4-2 record. The last year they played was 2007 when Arikian contributed to all three goals (one goal, two assists) in a shutout over the Hawks.
One of St. Joseph’s biggest problems is that it has yet to find a lineup that can stick. The Hawks have rotated 18 players, and if Koch has his way, UMass should have few problems taking advantage of the turbulence that is plaguing St. Joseph’s.
Adam Miller can be reached at email@example.com.