If the Massachusetts men’s soccer team hopes to continue its winning tradition at home, this weekend would be a good start.
The Minutemen will open an eight-game homestand this weekend when they host two dangerous teams at Rudd Field – Central Florida on Friday and No. 24 Indiana on Sunday. UMass is still looking for its first win, as its record stands at 0-2-1.
UCF (3-1) opened its season with 5-0 and 4-0 victories against Jacksonville and Florida Atlantic, respectively. The Knights’ season continued last weekend, when they followed a 1-0 loss to North Carolina-Wilmington with a 2-0 victory against Long Island.
The Knights are led by Nicholas Keown-Robson, who has three goals and three assists. His teammate, Spencer Scott, has two goals and three assists. UMass coach Sam Koch is not concerned about the individual threats his team will go up against.
“We’re going to focus on ourselves,” Koch said. “We decide who wins or loses – not the other team. Central Florida has good players but are [we about] to focus on any particular player? No.”
Koch is keeping a close eye on UMass’ goalkeeping situation, which features both Chris Piekos and Shane Curran-Hays, who will start against UCF on Friday. As of now, Piekos has started two of the team’s three games, allowing one goal for a .889 save percentage and a 0.41 goals-against average. Curran-Hays had a tough time in his only start, when he allowed three goals on seven shots against Harvard in a 3-2 loss.
“We’ve been trying to work out our goalkeeping situation,” Koch said. “But Hays will start on Friday.”
Most importantly, UMass has to work out its kinks in the offensive zone.
“We have to work on finishing,” Koch said. “We create a lot of good chances but we can’t put them away. That’s something that will take time.”
Putting those chances away should be very difficult against UCF keeper Shawn Doyle, who has allowed one goal with three shutouts in 360 minutes of play, posting a 0.25 GAA and a .900 save percentage.
The last thing UMass needs is a repeat of last season, when it desperately struggled to score goals. In fact, the Minutemen were 6-0-2 last year when scoring at least one goal. Koch understands that winning out this weekend would be a tough task, comparing it to the final weekend on UMass’ schedule.
“In a way [this weekend is] very similar to our Charlotte [and] Saint Louis weekend with Central Florida being Charlotte which is a skillful team, and Indiana being Saint Louis which is a strong, very physical team,” he said.
Indiana (2-2) opened its season on September 3 when it lost to California, 2-1. Since then, the Hoosiers defeated then-No. 5 UCLA, 5-1, lost to Cal Poly, 1-0, and defeated No. 22 Drake, 2-0. Indiana’s offense is highlighted by junior forward Will Bruin, who has four goals and one assist. His teammate, senior forward Andy Adlard, has two goals and two assists.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to test ourselves and to play consistently well and play within our system within the game,” Koch said referring to the upcoming weekend. “If we do that, I’ll feel good no matter what the results are and hopefully we’ll be getting where we need to be by the time we start conference play.”
Although the Minutemen have yet to win a game, Koch and his players are far from dispirited.
“I think that [first win] is important to any team,” Koch said. “More importantly, though, is making sure that we’re playing well and that we’re doing the things we’ve stressed in practice as well as sticking to the game plan that we have for Friday’s game.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.