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February 11, 2016

Sam Koch and company split weekend series

If the Massachusetts men’s soccer team could’ve started off its eight-game homestand with two wins, it would have not only given the Minutemen the momentum going into the rest of their schedule, but also given coach Sam Koch the satisfaction of beating two skillfully sound teams.

Much to Koch’s disappointment, his team only managed to beat one of them.        

UMass (1-2-2) opened the weekend on a good note, defeating Central Florida and its high-powered offense, 2-1. The win was the first of the season for the Minutemen, who picked up goals from freshmen Brett Canepa and Tyler Cleverdon, who both scored their first collegiate goals.

After a scoreless first half, the Knights opened the scoring on Nick Robson’s goal, which was set up by a long, breakaway pass on the counter-attack. However, UCF’s lead lasted just 1:35 as Canepa answered right back with a header that found the back of the net.

The play started with senior Chris Vaccaro, who passed to midfielder Ben Arikian on the left goal line. Arikian then sent a cross to Canepa, who found the net.

“[My first goal] means absolutely nothing,” Canepa said, smiling. “I’m still the young bird on the team and we’ll just see where we go from here.”

The remainder of the match featured exciting back-and-forth action without a change in score. Just as the game appeared to be headed to overtime, Morgan Brandso sent a cross from the right sideline to Cleverdon, who headed in the game-winner with 41 seconds left.

“We were running down on time and I knew we needed to start playing balls in the box,” Cleverdon said. “I saw the ball get popped out to the side, so I made a run and I knew Morgan was going to put it in the box. I got a head on it and it worked out perfectly.”

Shane Curran-Hays started in goal for the Minutemen, stopping five of six shots en route to a victory. Curran-Hays and fellow goalkeeper Chris Piekos are currently in a platoon situation, as neither player has assumed the starting position.

“It’s been going on forever and it’s great competition,” Curran-Hays said regarding splitting time with Piekos. “I’ll make a good save, he’ll make a good save, and we’re keeping an eye on each other. At the end of the day, though, I have the utmost respect for him and he has the utmost respect for me. Obviously I want to play and he wants to play and that’s what makes it good.”

Following their victory, the Minutemen couldn’t help but look towards hosting No. 24-ranked Indiana on Sunday.

“This first win means a lot,” Cleverdon added, hoping the energy would carry over to Sunday’s match against the Hoosiers. “It wasn’t by any means a great win and I thought we could have played a much better game.”

The energy seemed to carry over, but UMass could not overcome tough bounces and Indiana’s top players as the Minutemen dropped a 2-1 decision on Sunday.

The first half was evenly-played without many scoring opportunities for either team. Indiana’s Will Bruin opened the scoring during the 50th minute when he netted his team-leading fifth goal of the year – a low shot from 15 yards out to beat UMass goalkeeper Chris Piekos to the left post.

UMass freshman forward Hellah Sidibe scored his first goal in the 56th minute, which tied the score at one. Sidibe passed one defender along the right goal line and dribbled towards the goal before striking a left-footed, off-angle shot in between IU goalkeeper Luis Soffner and the right post.

“It’s pretty exciting [to score my first goal] but it really doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win,” Sidibe said. “I put the team’s success first and personal glory second. It was a good goal and a confidence booster but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win.”

UMass had ample opportunities to score in the game, but ran into misfortune on several shots by defender Andrew Henshaw. With 4:26 remaining, Henshaw, delivering a corner kick, struck the ball towards the back post. The ball landed and was inches away from crossing the goal line before an Indiana defender kicked it away. Henshaw came up just short again with 15 seconds left when he took a shot off Arikian’s pass that hit the right post.

“That was frustrating,” Koch said. “Some years the ball hits the post and goes in. Right now the ball is hitting the post and bouncing out. We just have to make sure to create more chances.”

 Defensively, UMass played a solid game and stuck to Koch’s game plan. Both of Indiana’s goals came from their top scorers, Will Bruin (five goals) and Andy Adlar (four). Bruin’s goal came off a breakaway – something Koch did not want to give to one of the nation’s top teams.

“Bruin at the top was a handful,” Koch said. I thought we handled him pretty well except for that one time [on the breakaway].”

Adlar’s goal proved to be the game-winner, when he took advantage of Piekos’ aggressive charge on a loose ball. Adlar reached the loose ball first and fired a shot underneath the diving Piekos into the empty net.

The Minutemen’s homestand continues Wednesday, when they host Vermont at 3:30 p.m. on Rudd Field.

“One thing we have to do is keep our heads up, because we know we’re a better team than any other team that comes to our field here,” Sidibe said. “We can’t get in our own way because it’s so early in the season. We have a big game on Wednesday against Vermont so we have to look forward to that and forget about the past.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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