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Piekos named starter, DeSantis doubtful

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team knows a thing or two about winning games on Rudd Field. The Minutemen (4-3-3, 1-1-0 Atlantic 10) have recorded shutouts 24 times there, and have posted a 43-19-7 at home since the facility opened in 2002.

UMass has won 70 percent of its A-10 match-ups at “Fort Rudd,” and will host five of its seven conference games in 2009 at home. This weekend, the Minutemen open their A-10 schedule at Rudd against Temple on Friday and Saint Joseph’s on Sunday, after opening its conference schedule on the road.

The Minutemen split last weekends A-10 opener with a loss to Dayton on Sunday, 1-0 in a double-overtime match that was a rematch of last seasons A-10 tournament final. UMass defeated Xavier on Friday, 1-0 for its first conference victory of the season. After two A-10 games, the Minutemen have scored one goal while allowing one goal, but have been out shot by opponents 30-19 in the two game span.

With one win at home so far in 2009, a 3-0 victory over Colgate, UMass coach Sam Koch knows how important it is to get wins at home, especially against conference opponents.

“It’s really important for us to have a good result,” Koch said. “We have to defend well as a team, [and] we have got to make it difficult for them to play.”

The Minutemen outscored opponents 7-2 in four A-10 games last season at Rudd, winning all four games against Richmond, George Washington, Saint Louis and Charlotte. UMass defeated the nationally-ranked Billikens on Nov. 7, 2-1 in double overtime to earn a bid to the A-10 tournament, a tournament in which the Minutemen reached the championship game.

DeSantis out

In the opening weekend of A-10 play, the Minutemen were without their best offensive threat, as senior forward Mark DeSantis did not see action in either of UMass’ contests against the Musketeers and the Flyers.

Koch had no comment on what the status of his captain’s illness was and didn’t say how long he would be out for.

In eight games started this season, DeSantis leads the Minutemen with three goals on sixteen shots, including six on goal with one game winner. DeSantis also makes everyone around him better, as UMass has scored just one goal in its past two contests without him. Ben Arikian has helped facilitate four of the Minutemen’s nine goals this year, as DeSantis has been on the end of two of them.

The Owls are fourth in the conference with  1.30 goals allowed on average, while the Hawks are dead last, allowing an average of more than three goals per game.

“He’s a big presence on this team so obviously we miss not having him, but you have to adjust and you have to adapt,” Koch said.

Piekos officially starting

Goalkeepers Chris Piekos and Shane Curran-Hays have been successful thus far in replacing All-American netminder Zack Simmons.

After splitting time with Curran-Hays at the beginning of the season, Piekos started back-to-back matches against the Musketeers and Flyers this weekend, and is officially the starter in goal for UMass.

Against the Flyers, he had a career high eight saves, and got a hand on an impressive shot that gave Dayton the victory on Sunday. In the six contests Piekos has started, he has allowed just two goals in 596 minutes in net, and is a big reason why the Minutemen top the A-10 in goals allowed (0.60), goals against average (0.55) and are second in shutouts (5).

Piekos is ranked first in the country with a .943 save percentage, and fourth with a 0.30 goals against average. In conference play, Piekos leads the A-10 in goals against average and is tied for first in shutouts.

“He’s been a part of the group and he’s been a positive influence like everyone else has,” Koch said. “He’s doing a good job.”

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

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