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May 8, 2017

Defense turning into scoring for UMass

It’s no secret that Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Sam Koch spends most of his effort focusing on the defense.

His coaching style makes it possible for UMass (5-4-3, 2-2-0 Atlantic 10) to replace almost the entire backfield with new players or veterans who didn’t see much time last season without compromising his area of emphasis. However, shutting out a team doesn’t do a whole lot of good if the team isn’t scoring.

The Minutemen run into a problem offensively without a go-to scorer who will lead the A-10 in goals. The closest UMass has to a primary scorer is senior Mark DeSantis, who has three goals on the season, but has been sick for the past two weeks.

That leaves the defense with no choice but to take matters into its own hands, and recently, that’s exactly what it has done.

“Everybody has to do their part,” Koch said. “Just because you play in the back doesn’t mean you can’t score goals. I’m happy the [defense scores] because we don’t score a lot of goals. It doesn’t matter who puts them in.”

Out of seven players who have scored this season, four of them (Andrew Henshaw, Sam DeNormandie, Dominic Skrajewski and Stuart Amick) have experience in the backfield this season. One player who is nearly as valuable as junior Ben Arikian with his playmaking abilities is sophomore Mark Dangleis.

Dangleis is tied with Arikian with three assists on the season, all of which have come on timely goals. His first assist of the season came on Sept. 1 in a tie against then-No. 24 Boston University.

Dangleis, who at the time wasn’t a starter, threw a flip throw-in to DeNormandie, who headed the ball in for his second career goal to put the Minutemen up early. He also contributed to the lone goal UMass scored in its win against Xavier.

More recently, in the 2-0 win over Saint Joseph’s, he helped set up the Minutemen’s second goal off a corner kick.

The defense’s contribution to the offense comes from set pieces. Dangleis takes a majority of the corner kicks and uses his flip throw-in to get the ball further down the field.

“It’s just a different service into the box, and we have tall guys that can get [to] the other end of it,” Dangleis said.

Being left-footed also puts him at an advantage when it comes to finding teammates.

One of Dangleis’s favorite targets is fellow defender Henshaw, who stands at six feet tall.

“Mark seems to keep on finding me, and I don’t mind,” Henshaw said. “I like getting the goals in there, so hopefully he keeps finding me.”

The sophomore has used A-10 play to become an offensive threat on his own, scoring in both of UMass’ conference wins, as Dangleis helped Henshaw set up both goals in the last two weeks.

The first came against the Musketeers, where Henshaw scored the Minutemen’s lone goal, and his second came as added insurance in the win over the Hawks.

“All I have to do is time myself, and put the ball in the back of the net,” Henshaw said referring to connecting on Dangleis’ passes.

However, the Dangleis-Henshaw connection is only the most recent example of how UMass’ defense has become its offense.

Skrajewski, one of the Minutemen’s incoming freshmen, had no expectations as far as playing time was concerned. But during training camp, he worked his way into the starting lineup and contributed immediately – on both sides of the ball.

The freshman earned Koch’s trust, and has played a key role in the offense at times. Skrajewski has five shots on the season, and notched his first goal against Colgate on Sept. 29 as UMass rolled its way to a 3-0 victory.

As the Minutemen begin the final five games of their season, Koch will expect his defense to be as solid as it has been so far. But in order to be in the top tier of the A-10, some of the scoring will have to come from the back.

Adam Miller can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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