While the Massachusetts men’s soccer team has certainly struggled to score goals early on this season, the defense has also been somewhat inconsistent.
In the first half in their game against Boston University on Sunday, the Minutemen were solid defensively, aggressively challenging the Terriers’ offensive chances and limiting them to just two shots and two corner kick opportunities.
The second half was an entirely different story.
The Terriers successfully pressured the UMass back line, firing 10 shots, earning six corner kicks, and tallying two goals, which turned out to be the difference as BU spoiled the Minutemen’s home opener.
That second half performance was far from the usual, though. In its previous three games, UMass only surrendered two goals – both on penalty kicks – and were able to spurn a large majority of their opponents’ chances, which represents a clear improvement from giving up seven goals in its first three games of the season.
“We still have things to work on, we’re still not where we need to be,” said UMass coach Sam Koch in an interview last week. “We’re still far from being the best defensive team we can be, but we’re working on it, and I think we’ve got it, and we know what we have to do.”
Wednesday’s matchup may be deceiving, as the Minutemen welcome Hartford to Rudd Field.
Although the Hawks’ record stands at just 1-5-1, they will certainly pose a challenge for the UMass defense, as all of their games have been decided by at least one goal, and they are fresh off the heels of drawing a 0-0 tie with No. 15 Penn State on Sunday.
Young players improving
Entering the 2011 season, the Minutemen knew that the voids left by midfielders Stuart Amick and Ben Arikian would be hard to fill, and seven games into the season, production is now starting to come from the younger players.
On Sunday, freshman defender Matt Keys was not only causing problems in the defensive zone for Terrier forwards, but he also scored his first career goal in the contest, using his size to head home a free kick delivered by defender David Key.
At 6-foot-5, Keys’ height makes him a matchup nightmare for any opponent, and he will certainly be a threat anywhere on the field this year and for years to come.
“He’s been doing a good job for us all year,” said Koch. “He’s been a really nice addition, he’s got a great attitude, and he has a great future here.”
“We’re really pleased we have him, but we’re disappointed we haven’t won more games with him,” Koch added. “He did everything he could [on Sunday] to help us win. We just have to step it up all around him.”
It is a difficult task, as the Minutemen have players all around the pitch seeing increased playing time and roles this season compared to last.
Aside from Keys, forward Josh Schwartz and defenders Jake Murphy and Mike Loughery are among the freshmen seeing a lot of playing time early on this season, and have each shown flashes of their potential.
Additionally, junior midfielder Hellah Sidibe, who started just twice in 2010, has started in every game this season. Although he hasn’t produced any points yet, it’s just a matter of time, as he has created several opportunities playing aggressively from his position.
“I think they’ve done a pretty good job,” said Koch, in reference to his less experienced players. “I think our team is better, even though our record isn’t, our team is better. In the long run, we’re going to be better. Our depth is much better than it was last year. The attitude has been great. I think the future’s good, it’s just [a question of] when the future is going to appear.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.