The Massachusetts men’s soccer team knows this all too well, as its visit to Harvard on Friday night will cap-off the team’s long and grueling start to the 2011 season. The road trip took the team along the east coast, with stops coming anywhere from Orlando, Fla. to Burlington, Vt.
“It’s good for anyone that wants to get into the travel business,” said UMass coach Sam Koch. “Other than that, it’s been tough.”
The Minutemen (1-4) not only had to prepare for each opponent prior to their games, but also had to contend with plane rides, long bus trips and hotels. To complicate things further, each surface UMass played on was different than what they are used to at Rudd Field.
Despite the additional stressors, Koch doesn’t attribute them to the team’s slow start. He insists instead that stumbling to begin the year is due to the mistakes in execution on the field.
“I think the biggest things are when you’re playing one of the top teams, you make a mistake [and] they’ll capitalize,” said Koch. “They’ll punish you.”
UMass has faced one competitive team after another, including trips to No. 10 Central Florida, Delaware and Jacksonville. Despite the Minutemen’s four losses, Koch feels his team has gained confidence and does not believe they have been “outplayed” in any of their contests.
Moving past the slow start, the team believes in its personnel and has its sights set on a different goal: winning the Atlantic 10 tournament in St. Louis, Mo.
“That’s what we’re gearing towards is making sure when we play our conference games,” said Koch. “[That] we are firing on all pistons, we’re playing the best we can play, and we finally have eliminated the mistakes we’re making now.”
Sunday marks the team’s first home game of the season, as the Minutemen welcome Boston University to Rudd Field. UMass follows Sunday’s affair with four of its next five games at home before beginning another road trip, a four-game stint with visits to Fordham, La Salle, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure.
The early six-game road trip is the longest in the last 10 years for UMass, with a pair of five-game stints coming in 2006 and 2004.
The Minutemen are not about to pout about their difficult schedule to begin the season and certainly will not make excuses about the additional distractions that come with playing on the road. Koch claims that it “wasn’t an issue.”
A harder schedule has allowed the Maroon and White to work out the offseason kinks with its new, inexperienced players as it prepares for A-10 play. The team begins conference games with a home match against preseason favorite Charlotte Oct. 7.
Breaking in a new starting lineup involves some learning curves, which is to be expected with players lacking the experience that others have gained in past seasons.
“You really appreciate the guys who have been in the program for three years because they don’t make those mistakes,” said Koch, who later admitted that his experienced players made the same mistakes his young players are making now.
UMass featured six new starters in Sunday’s match against Vermont last week, compared to just five returning starters.
Koch acknowledged the fact that his starting lineup has changed from a year ago, calling the Minutemen “a new team.”
Sunday’s home opener could prove to be a turning point in the Maroon and White’s season, as the team looks to turn the tables around and gear up for conference play.
“I think our team, for being 1-4, feels pretty good about what we can do,” said Koch. “You just have to do it and [so far] we haven’t done it.”
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.