With just three games remaining until the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team finds itself on the outside looking in.
The Minutemen (4-10-2, 2-2-2 A-10) currently sit in ninth place in the A-10, one point behind sixth-place Temple. The top six teams in the conference advance to the A-10 tournament.
Coming away with positive results at home versus George Washington and Richmond this weekend will go a long way for UMass in reaching the tournament.
“We’re playing at home, we’re playing against two teams that I think we understand what they’ve got, we’ve just got to hold them off and put the ball in the back of the net,” said UMass coach Sam Koch.
Putting the ball in the back of the net has been easier said than done as of late. UMass has failed to score a goal over the last three games, games in which they went 0-1-2.
“We haven’t scored too many goals lately and that’s the thing that’s going to hold us back,” said Koch.
The Minutemen will look to break their scoring slump on Friday when George Washington (5-6-2, 3-2-0 A-10) comes to Rudd Field.
The Colonials are currently tied for sixth in the conference, an impressive place to be considering their disastrous 2010 season.
Last season GW finished 3-15 overall and went 1-8 in conference play.
“They got a couple guys up top that can score goals,” said Koch. “They’re very dangerous attacking-wise, We just need to stop them.”
Yoni Berhanu and Seth Rudolph are those guys Koch alluded to. Berhanu and Rudolph each have six goals, three assists and 15 points on the season. Those numbers put the duo tied for third place in points among all A-10 players.
If the Colonials have a weakness, it’s their home-road splits. They’ve gone 4-0 at home, 0-5 on the road and 1-1-2 on neutral sites. This advantage could be particularly beneficial to the Minutemen considering their struggles on the road (1-7-2) as well.
However, the home-road splits won’t be of consequence if UMass can’t get in the scoring column. Over the past three games, the Minutemen have created numerous opportunities, with nothing to show for them.
“Against Duquesne, we had a lot of great chances, their [goal]keeper made some great saves,” said Koch.
Duquesne outscored UMass in that game 4-0, but the play on the field was closer than the score indicated. The Dukes outshot the Minutemen by a narrow 17-14 margin and UMass won four corner kicks, compared to Duquesne’s three.
The Minutemen failed to register a win in their last three games, but have kept pace with their opponents statistically, outshooting them 58-57 in that span.
“It’s just one of those things, we’re getting opportunities, we’re just not finishing them the way we need too,” said Koch.
The Minutemen are led on offense by emerging sophomore star Brett Canepa, who ranks first on the team in points with seven.
If Canepa cannot contribute offensively for UMass, the onus will likely fall on Bryant Craft or Josh Schwartz, who are two capable scorers based on their performances this season and last.
Shane Curran-Hays will likely be in net for the Minutemen. Curran-Hays has four shutouts in the past five games and ranks fourth in goals-against average (1.07), third in save percentage (.805) and tied for second in shutouts (five) among A-10 goalies.
With two winnable games on the horizon this weekend, the opportunity to climb the A-10 standings is now.
“[They’re] both good teams. Both teams can certainly beat us, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Koch.
The A-10 tournament will take place in Saint Louis this season and if UMass expects to make the trip, the Minutemen must break the slump that’s infiltrating the offensive unit.
“We have got to score goals, I think if we do that, we’ll be going to St. Louis,” said Koch.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on twitter @MDC_Alexander.