The Massachusetts men’s soccer team may have built a strong enough roster to bypass speculated struggles this season.
“We’re looking forward to the season, we want to be back to the Atlantic 10 tournament, to the NCAA tournament,” UMass coach Sam Koch said.
“I feel strongly that we’re going to be a team that’s better than we were last year,” continued Koch. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we’re back in the postseason. But I can’t predict it; I don’t have a crystal ball.”
While this year’s team is relatively similar to the team that narrowly missed the 2009 postseason, fresh faces, including an international striker, may be the change Koch and the rest of the UMass lineup need to thrive in the upcoming season.
If any position of the pitch took a hit this offseason, it was the forward spot, as last year’s top goal scorer, Mark DeSantis, graduated.
Brodie Steigerwald and Chris Roswess top the Minutemen’s returners list.
Roswess and DeNormandie look to lead the offense, coming from positions with heavy experience from the previous year. Roswess started in all 31 of his games last season, totaling four assists, while DeNormandie scored two goals of five shots taken.
Despite losing a key scorer, UMass adds an out-and-out striker in Hellah Sidibe. The freshman, who hails from Mali, will dawn the Maroon and White jersey for this upcoming season after failing to meet academic requirements last year.
“He hasn’t stepped on the practice field yet,” Koch said. “We really feel he’s going to be a nice addition and he hasn’t played against the competition that we’ve played against. He’s a good athlete, good soccer player. We feel like he’s going to be a great asset to the team.”
Sidibe, however, is not the only newcomer for the forwards. Three additional incoming UMass students, Brett Canepa, Conor DeVivo and Mike Matlock, will hit the pitch for the Minutemen.
With a push to add more depth at the top, Koch was not shy on his intentions for the upcoming season.
“The main thing is to score goals. Can we score more goals than we did last year?” said Koch.
With an increase in forwards, Koch may find the answer to his question to be affirmative.
The midfield is one of the most essential pieces of a soccer team, controlling both the pace of the game as well as, offensive and defensive dynamics. Luckily for the Minutemen, the midfield hosts their most essential player in Ben Arikian.
Arikian is back for the Minutemen this year, having already been named to the A-10 Men’s Soccer Preseason All-Conference Team. The senior was instrumental in the success UMass had last year, totaling seven of the Maroon and White’s 15 goals. Arikian did more than just score for the Minutemen he also led the team in assists (four).
Arikian’s display of skill isn’t limited to the previous year either. In 2008, the young sophomore garnered the A-10 Midfielder of the Year award.
The supporting midfielders around Arikian are not to be forgotten either. The Minutemen will bring back a very familiar midfield with Stuart Amick, Morgan Brandso, Bryant Craft, Patrick Holmes, Chris Stoker and Chris Vaccaro. Holmes is the only returning midfielder yet to see any game action.
The lone freshman for the center of the pitch will be Josh Gossellin, who played high school soccer in Reading, Mass., where he was named to the All-Middlesex League. Gossellin also played against DeSantis in the Mass Premier Soccer League.
Also, expect to see Mark Dangleis creep into the midfield, as he doubles as a midfielder and a defender. Dangleis’ movement falls perfectly into Koch’s plan to have players intersect and not stay true to one position.
“Midfield will be in the attack, the outside backs will be in the attack, and our front runners will need to drop into the midfield to defend,” Koch said. “There’s no real formation that we [play] except that everyone plays multiple positions.”
Koch hopes the versatility he receives from Dangleis will be seen in Stoker, his newest transfer.
The junior transferred from Providence after sitting out part of his sophomore season with an injury. However, he’s shown plenty of upside to perform on a big stage, scoring the game-winning goal for his team as a freshman.
Similar to Dangleis, he also plays midfield, but is more offensive-minded than his new teammate.
Under Koch, UMass typically plays a more defensive style of soccer.
This year will be no different as Koch has confidence in his back line..
“Defensively, we’re pretty sound, and we feel we should be able to maintain that,” Koch said.
The defense won’t be seeing too much change this year. Michael Doherty, Chris Gilbert, Andrew Henshaw, David Key and Dominic Skrajewski will hold up the back again.
Henshaw and Skrajewski each scored goals last season, so expect to see them push forward as a part of Koch’s interweaving formation plan.
New to the defensive lineup will be Tyler Cleverdon.
Chris Piekos and Shane Curran-Hays return to stand in the net for the Minutemen, along with sophomore Brian Frame.
“Piekos and Curran-Hays are certainly the top two keepers,” Koch said.
Although Piekos and Curran-Hays will lead the goalkeeping area of the field, Koch believes Frame still has the ability to make an impact.
“It depends how he does in preseason,” Koch said. “We’ll find out when he comes in.”
Piekos and Curran-Hays started all games for UMass last season, with Curran-Hays starting in eight matches and Piekos starting in nine. Last season, Frame’s freshman year did not grant him any game action.
Piekos totaled 46 saves and mustered four shutouts for the Maroon and White, allowing seven goals in 925 minutes of game time. While Curran-Hays also allowed seven goals, he did so in 705 minutes and had a season with two shutouts.
Koch will look into setting his lineup in the coming weeks, despite not having a specific formation in mind.
“We’ll see how that goes in preseason,“ Koch said. “Traditionally, [we use] a traditional 4-4-2. Will we play a 4-5-1, a 3-5-2, how the game goes will determine what our formation is.”
Herb Scribner can be reached email@example.com.