“They’re a team that can beat you, there’s no question,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “They’re a little bit snake-bitten right now. Their backs are against the wall, [and] they need a result. They are in big trouble if they don’t get a win on Saturday, so they’re going to be ready to play. They’re not looking past this game, that’s for sure.”
The Rams (2-7-2, 0-1-1 A-10) sit nowhere near the top of the table thus far in the season with a single point to their names. Similar to the Minutemen, URI kicked off its opening conference weekend with matches against Dayton and Xavier. While UMass pulled off a victory over the Muskateers, the Rams suffered a 2-0 defeat.
“[U]RI is not weak,” Koch said. “They’re outplaying opponents. They just haven’t been able to get the ball in the back of the net. They’re a very formidable opponent. This is a big game, there’s no question about it. It helps us to keep going forward with a good result.”
URI is no stranger to shutouts, having lost six matches without scoring a goal, five of which occurred during a six-game span. The first shutout came from Old Dominion (2-0), followed by a 4-0 dominance by William & Mary. After defeating Siena, 2-1, a team which the Minutemen earned a 2-2 draw against, URI suffered three straight shutouts to No. 10 Boston College, Boston University and No. 23 South Florida.
In its final game of the preseason, the Rams earned a 1-1 draw with Fairfield, an opponent the Minutemen drew with, 0-0, in their third game of the season.
The strength of URI this season in terms of offense is Jamie Eckmayer, who has a pair of goals off of eight shots. Nearly just as productive is Greg Balicki, who has one goal on 22 shots, 11 of which have been on target.
“They attack with a number of people whether its Balicki, who is a very good left-footed player,” Koch said. “They have a lot of different offensive weapons. Individually they’re very skillful. Are they playing really well as a whole unit? That’s their question. I want to make sure they’re asking those questions after we play them. They’re capable of beating anybody but we have to make sure that we’re ready to play.”
This will be the first road game of the A-10 schedule for the Minutemen and the first of a three-game away span for the Maroon and White, who have played eight-straight games at Rudd Field.
Midfielder Ben Arikian will look to extend his offense-producing ways in the game against the Rams, having scored his first goal of the 2010 season against the Flyers. Arikian remains four assists from being third all-time for UMass and is two goals shy of matching his 2009 total.
The Minutemen will look to expose the Rams’ lack of ability to stop goals from reaching the back of the net. Through last weekend, URI allowed a total of 21 goals, with 13 of those scores coming in the first half alone. Comparatively, UMass has given up 14 goals on the year, with five goals coming in the first half and eight in the second half.
“We have to take care of ourselves, that’s the main thing,” Koch said.
Always a talking point, goalkeeper Chris Piekos and URI’s goalkeeper Peyton Warwick stand nearly level in terms of their score sheets so far in the 2010 campaign. While Warwick has saved more balls than Piekos (55-52), the UMass Athlete of the Week outclasses Warwick in goals allowed (10-21).
The Minutemen kicked off A-10 play by splitting with a 2-0 victory over Xavier and a 1-1 draw with Dayton. The draw with the Flyers must be a confidence booster for UMass, after Dayton finished at the top of the A-10 last season.
“If we don’t get a good result [against URI], it’s not the end of the world, but it would set us back a notch,” Koch said. “We don’t want that, we want to keep moving forward and I think we’re on the verge of playing really well and we want to take the next step this weekend.”
Herb Scribner can be reached at email@example.com.