Away games are generally considered to be tougher than playing at home. Dealing with opposing fans, someone else’s turf, there’s a slew of factors that typically make away games tougher for squads.
For the Massachusetts men’s soccer team, playing on the road has brought success.
“We eat a lot of fish, [it’s] the high protein,” UMass coach Sam Koch joked about the Minutemen success on the road. “Why are we playing better on the road? The team’s playing better whether we’re on the road or not. We’re more cohesive as a group then we were.”
The Minutemen (3-3-6, 2-0-1 Atlantic 10) are undefeated on the road this season, with one goal allowed between the three away games at Fairfield, Boston University and Rhode Island in contests that had goalkeeper Chris Piekos start in between the net.
The game against the Owls (4-6-2, 2-1-0 A-10) will add another first for the 2010 campaign, as it is the first night game of the season for the Maroon and White. Playing under the lights is exclusive only to road games for UMass, as Rudd Field is not equipped with necessary lighting to play a game past sundown.
Last time the Minutemen competed at night, they defeated Richmond, 2-1, in overtime.
“Well, we tell the guys to, every five seconds out of every 10, to keep their eyes closed like we’re playing at night,” Koch said, “So that changes everything so we’re able to adjust pretty well.”
Besides being a night game, the two matches will be played in Philadelphia, Penn., which also marks the first time this season that the Minutemen will have an overnight trip and play a pair of consecutive games on the road.
In each of the three away games this season, UMass has been out-shot by its opponents (48-31), as well as on goal (16-14).
Despite being unloaded on with shots, Koch stated that one of the strongest developments for his team was gaining defensive cohesion to stop shot opportunities.
“The frontrunners have really stepped up after the Xavier game to defend better,” Koch said. “When they defend better, the whole team plays better. I think that’s been the key change for us as far as the way we’re playing. Can we talk a little better in the back? I think we can. We’re finding the right combinations of guys together that work better together and I think that helps.”
Interestingly, the Minutemen, who have unleashed a flurry of assists this season, did not earn an assist on either of the two away goals they scored. Both Bryant Crafts’ goal against the Terriers and Chris Stoker’s game-winner against Rhode Island were marked unassisted.
Being away from Rudd Field might become an issue for UMass, as the team is historically better while competing at Fort Rudd. Since the facility opened in 2002, the Minutemen have gone 46-25-11 with 26 games ending in shutouts. Furthermore, UMass has won nearly 70 percent of its A-10 matches at home.
Last season, the Minutemen were successful on the road with a 4-3-1 record. This fall, UMass will compete in one less away game than in 2009.
Herb Scribner can be reached at email@example.com.