March 3, 2015

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Minutemen looking to rebound from 2009

- Click here for our breakdown of the Minutemen’s roster.

- Click here for coverage of the team’s season-opening tie against Boston University.

- Click here for our sidebar on the UMass midfield.

It’s a common maxim for a team to learn from its mistakes.

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team, however, will be taking a different approach when it opens its season on Sept. 1 against Boston University.

“It’s a new season, so there’s no obstacles from last season,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “It’s a completely different team. The main thing is bringing everybody together in the preseason and getting them ready for the season that’s ahead. We don’t look at last year, we look at this year.”

Even though the Minutemen only lose one senior in Mark DeSantis, Koch sees the upcoming season as a completely different year for the Maroon and White.

“Everybody’s a year older, but we have a new group coming in as well,” Koch said. “We were young last year, and now we’re a year older. The main thing is, can we score goals? Obviously, last year we didn’t, we didn’t score as many as we needed to.”

Returning to the team is senior midfielder Ben Arikian, who is a 2010 Hermann Trophy Watch List candidate, the accolade awarded to the best Division I collegiate soccer player in the country.

Arikian’s role will certainly be increased this year, without DeSantis there to put goals into the back of the net. Arikian has nine goals in 63 games as a Minuteman.

Last season, UMass’ defense ranked first in the Atlantic 10 for goals allowed, holding other teams to .82 goals per game, and a .060 shot percentage. The defense played carefully within the box, as it allowed no penalty kicks over the course of the season.

The defensive side of the Minutemen were ranked 22nd overall in the nation in goals against.

The accolade-winning defense returns this year, with Michael Doherty, Chris Gilbert, Andrew Henshaw, David Key and Dominic Skrajewski all in the backline. Aiding the defense will be midfielder Mark Dangleis, who doubles as a defender.

Arguably one of the top defenders for the Minutemen is Henshaw, who earned national awards and praise for his season last year. The junior earned NSCAA Mid-Atlantic All-Region Third Team honors, as well as the A-10 All-Conference Second Team for his defensive efforts.

Henshaw does more than just defend, also scoring a pair of goals and earning an assist in the 17 games he started for UMass last season.

Skrajewski produced offensively over the year as well, scoring a game-winning goal in a 3-0 rout against Colgate last season.

Key and Doherty will be equally important to the backline this season. While Key contributed to six of the shutouts earned by the Minutemen last season, Doherty played in 16 games with only one start.

Over the course of last season, the Minutemen went 7-7-3 under Koch. The early part of its season was brighter than the latter half, as UMass started the season with one loss in its first seven games.

Atlantic 10 play was a different story. Within the conference, the Minutemen went 4-5-0.

UMass also produced better results on the road (4-3-1) than at home (3-4-1), but fell short during extra time, earning one victory in its six overtime matches.

One of the key issues last season for the Minutemen came in their inability to score. They averaged less than a goal per game and a .080 shot percentage. DeSantis was the highest goal-scorer for the Minutemen with four on the season.

As far as formation goes, Koch stated he’d likely go with the traditional 4-4-2. Koch, however, stressed that there isn’t a sole formation he likes better than the other and that he truly wants players rotating around and helping each other out.

Even though last season the Minutemen did one game better when competing on the road, this fall they’ll have a chance to change that, as they play 10 of their 16 games at Rudd Field, where Koch and Co. are historically difficult to beat.

UMass will host eight straight games, with a significant chunk of those matches being against non-A-10 opponents. The Minutemen will have some similar opponents as last preseason, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Boston University and Siena. UMass didn’t lose to any of those teams last year, drawing to the Mountaineers, the Wildcats and the Terriers, while downing Siena, 3-0.

After finishing the non-conference schedule, the Minutemen will kick off their A-10 slate at home against Xavier and Dayton. Following the home stretch, UMass will compete on the road for three consecutive matches before returning home for another pair of contests. It will then close out the season with two away matches.

Two of the more interesting affairs for the Minutemen come on Oct. 16 and Nov. 5, when UMass takes on Rhode Island and Charlotte on Nov. 7. Both URI and the 49ers ended the Minutemen’s playoff hopes last year with victories late in the season.

The same day that the Minutemen watched their playoff hopes crumble last year, the Maroon and White finished Richmond off 2-1 in a thrilling match, which featured a golden goal by Chris Roswess in extra time.

This coming season does not feature a rematch between the two sides, but it does offer UMass a match against Saint Louis to close out the season. The last time the Minutemen faced the Billikens, they won 2-1 in the second period of extra time, defeating a then-ranked No. 10 SLU.

Herb Scribner can be reached at hscribne@student.umass.edu.

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