The impressive performance by the Massachusetts men’s soccer team this season all comes down to its final weekend against Charlotte and Saint Louis.
“If we don’t win these games, then we don’t deserve to go to the playoffs,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “So it’s as simple as that.”
Despite holding 14 points in the Atlantic 10 and being nestled in at third place, the Minutemen (5-4-7, 4-1-2 A-10) are still in potential danger of not qualifying for the post season.
“We don’t win either one of these games, we’re done, we’re not in,” Koch said. “Am I worried about it? We’re in the playoffs now, we were just in the playoffs a weekend earlier.”
The A-10 table is tight going into this weekend, with all the teams below front-runner No. 18 Charlotte are all within at least a two-point margin of each other.
UMass has the daunting task of taking on the ranked 49ers (11-5-0, 6-1-0 A-10) in the final weekend of play. Charlotte has been at its top form as of late, despite a 2-1 loss to Temple on Halloween, and will be a challenge for the Minutemen if they want to proceed to the playoffs.
“They’re the best team in the league,” Koch said. “So going to their place and play against the best team in the league, we’ve got to play our best game to beat them.”
Charlotte has been known to be a thorn in UMass’ side, as last season the 49ers kept the Minutemen out of the playoffs with a victory which pushed the Minutemen too far out of contention.
This season, Charlotte topped No. 23, Wake Forest, back in September to put them on the map of national rankings.
The 49ers have been on an offensive tear this season, including two straight matches over the course of a weekend when they scored three goals to down their opponents (SLU and Saint Joseph’s).
Forward Andres Cuero has been the top scorer in a green and gold jersey, putting seven balls into the back of the net.
Following the Charlotte affair on Friday, the Maroon and White will travel to Saint Louis, another team that is in the playoff picture.
The Billikens (7-6-2, 4-3-0 A-10) are a historically strong team, producing such professionals such as former U.S. national team forward Brian McBride. This season, SLU is getting all of their offense from a handful of goal scorers including Adnan Gabeljic, Devon Newport, Benny Estes and Christian Briggs, all of whom have three goals on the year.
Koch sees the potential in the offensive-powered side however, and has been working the Minutemen defense all throughout training.
“[We’re] just trying to tighten up the defense a little bit and just make sure we’re compact as a unit and we play quicker,” Koch said. “We’ve got to move the ball faster.”
With these large games looming for UMass, and with the potential of the team’s surprisingly strong A-10 play being erased, Koch feels there is no pressure heading into the weekend.
“To be honest, in a funny way, there’s no pressure,” Koch said. “I think there would be more pressure if we were trying to win both to be in first place or trying to worry about seeding. We’re not worried about seeding we just want to make sure we’re playing. Right now, we want to play well, we want to win a game to make sure that we’re in.”
After this weekend, there should be a clear indication if the Minutemen make the A-10 playoffs. As of now they sit in the third spot, with the top six making the postseason, and the top two getting a first round bye.
Herb Scribner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.