September 2, 2014

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

After slow start, Minutemen need a kick-start

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team hasn’t even played a home game this season, but it’s facing more pressure now than ever to start performing.

Through five games, the Minutemen have one win goal to show for, and have left many preseason questions unanswered in what was expected to be an entertaining, albeit rebuilding, year.

“Obviously we’ve had a tough start, so we’re trying to get better each week,” said UMass coach Sam Koch. “And I think we’ve done that. I think we’re getting better each week, but this weekend is important that we get some results. We need to continue to show improvement, not just when we talk about it, but show it on the scoreboard.”

With a pair of games on tap for this weekend, the Maroon and White will try to echo the statement of their head coach. The team will end its season-opening six-game road trip with a visit to Harvard Friday evening before returning to the familiar confines of Rudd Field for the home opener Sunday afternoon against Boston University.

Similarly to UMass, struggles have mounted for the Crimson and the Terriers in the early going of the season. The squads have each posted less-than-stellar records at 1-2 and 1-3, respectively.

Still, however, records don’t tell the whole story, especially for these two inner-state opponents, who have proven to be particularly tough tests for the Minutemen in recent years.

“We’re going against a really good Harvard team,” said Koch. “I believe they’ve been in the NCAA Tournament the last four years, and we’ve got BU on Sunday, so we have two teams that are athletically very good, and that continue to get better.

“Obviously we know them better than we knew the teams from Florida,” added Koch. “But it’s really down to how well we play. We’re not worried about our opponent as much as we’re worried about how we perform. If we eliminate some of the silly mistakes that we’ve been making, then it’s going to increase our chances of being able to win the game that much more.”

Harvard owns a 15-3-2 lead all-time against UMass, and has dominated the series lately with an 8-0-1 record in its last nine meetings.

Most recently, in last season’s contest, Harvard – then ranked No. 10 nationally – slipped past UMass 3-2 in the Minutemen’s home opener behind a goal and an assist from then-sophomore midfielder Scott Prozeller.

The Crimson aren’t receiving nearly the same success as they were a year ago.

They enter Friday’s matchup on a two-game losing streak after dropping games against St. John’s and Rhode Island last weekend. Yet, the team boasts enough raw talent in the attack, which should help it break out of its slump.

Prozeller, now a junior co-captain for the Crimson, will return to serve as an imposing threat in the midfield, but UMass will also have its hands full with another junior, Brian Rogers, up front.

The forward has claimed both of Harvard’s goals this season, an 83rd minute, game-winning tally against Northeastern Sept. 4 and another goal against URI last Sunday. Rogers is always dangerous with the ball at his feet, as he has tallied 13 goals and 33 points in his college career.

On Sunday, the Minutemen will host BU in its home opener, a team they have matched up evenly with in recent years.

In each of the past three seasons, their matchups have required extra time, battling to 1-1 draws the past two seasons while UMass earned a double overtime victory in 2008.

This season, both squads are keeping up with the theme, as they are struggling early out of the gate. After notching a season-opening victory over Holy Cross, the Terriers have dropped three straight, most recently a 2-1 overtime loss to Seton Hall last Friday.

“The key is to make sure we continue to create opportunities,” said Koch. “We’ve just got to keep going, keep doing it. It’s the law of averages – sooner or later we’re going to score. We just want to make sure we have those averages in our favor.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at shewitt@student.umass.edu.

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