The Massachusetts men’s soccer team’s up and down season is now in its home-stretch and the Minutemen haven’t picked a better time to get hot than right now.
With 14 points, UMass (5-4-7, 4-1-2 Atlantic 10) currently holds the third seed out of six for the A-10 tournament heading into the conference’s final weekend of play. Six teams underneath UMass have at least 12 points, so the Minutemen’s spot is hardly secure as they head down south for a weekend set against conference-leading Charlotte and Saint Louis.
Fortunately for UMass, it has not lost a road game all year. In September, the Minutemen tied Boston University and Fairfield on their home turf. UMass then enjoyed an eight-game home stand (2-2-4) before defeating conference rivals Rhode Island, Temple and Saint Joseph’s all via 1-0 shutouts on the road. UMass stalled a little when it returned to Rudd Field for Halloween weekend, losing to Fordham, 1-0, and tying La Salle, 1-1.
Now, the Minutemen will look to improve on their 3-0-2 road record this weekend.
“I didn’t know [we were undefeated on the road],” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “But we haven’t lost that many games [either]. We’ve been pretty good on the road because maybe we’re a little bit more focused. [The players] are thinking about the game, they’re not worried about class and other things.”
The Minutemen will struggle to continue their undefeated road streak, especially against the 49ers (11-5-0, 6-1-0 A-10). The Billikens (7-6-2, 4-3-0 A-10) should be tough as well, since UMass will represent their obstacle into the playoffs.
“We’re going on the road against two very, very good opponents at two very tough places to play,” Koch said. “Friday night in Charlotte, that’s not where you want to be unless you’re a [49er]. Saint Louis is a hard place to play [also]; we’re going to two tough venues.”
Despite UMass’ road success, the Minutemen have not scored more than one goal in any of their five road games.
“It’d be great to [score three or four goals],” Koch said. “But I’m not concerned about that as much as I am making sure the other team doesn’t score more than us.”
Piekos improving in any way possible
UMass goalkeeper Chris Piekos is one of the best in the country. His 0.76 goals-against average is third in the conference and his .859 save percentage is 12th in the nation. Piekos began the season sharing time with Shane Curran-Hays, but Piekos’s strong play warranted him the starts for the majority of the season.
“He continues to get better,” Koch said. “He’s certainly matured as a player. I think he talks better with the players in front of him, his communication is better, his punting game has gotten a lot better. There wasn’t a lot of improvement to make [because he was a good keeper last year].”
With Piekos anchoring the net, it seems UMass is never truly out of any game.
One would think that escaping the biting northeast air for warmer southern air would be exciting for UMass. It’s not though, as Koch hopes to be playing in freezing temperatures down the line.
“We train in February outside,” Koch said. “We want to play on this field when it’s frozen because that means we’re in the NCAA tournament. We’re happy that it’s cold; we just want to make sure we’re playing. It’s not fun when it’s cold and we’re not playing.”
The Minutemen still have work to do with two conference games left before the A-10 tournament as a weekend split would likely earn them a playoff berth. That’s the first step on their mission to play on frozen fields.
Steve Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.