All season long, Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Sam Koch has stressed to his team the importance of focusing on what it can control and to not be distracted by anything but doing its jobs game-in and game-out.
Over their next three games that will complete the regular season, the Minutemen (4-10-2, 2-2-2 Atlantic 10) can put away any misery that their up-and-down season has provided them, by focusing on one simple objective: get results and make the A-10 tournament.
Although its overall record stands at six games below .500, UMass is right in the thick of the hunt to make the postseason next month.
At 2-2-2 in conference play, the Minutemen currently sit in ninth place in the A-10 standings with eight points and are just one point behind Temple, George Washington and Saint Louis – who are all deadlocked at a tie for sixth place. The top six teams in the standings at year’s end advance to the tournament in Saint Louis, Mo., where they will battle it out to determine who will advance to the NCAA tournament.
And UMass is certainly in favorable shape to make the conference tournament as it heads into its last two weekends of the season. Two of its final three opponents are against teams in Richmond and Rhode Island that are below them in the standings, while the other is against the Colonials, who the Minutemen can leapfrog in the standings if they can claim victory this afternoon.
UMass can also find solace in the fact that all of those games will be played on its home turf in the friendly confines of Rudd Field.
Although the Minutemen have posted a losing record at home this season, their last three-game homestand earlier this month was a successful one. They beat nationally-ranked Bradley, nearly defeated nationally-ranked Charlotte and earned a shutout victory against the Billikens. If that homestand is any indication, it seems that the team is getting more comfortable at home, which is a vital sign for this last stretch of the season.
“Playing at home sometimes is a distraction,” said Koch. “But you’re playing on your home surface, you’re in an environment where you’re comfortable and you’re also sleeping in your own bed, which sometimes makes it a lot easier. There are a lot of pluses and minuses.
“Overall though, I think playing at home is certainly a lot better than playing on the road,” Koch added. “The travel and the fatigue of travel are eliminated, which I think is a positive.”
UMass might seem relieved that its road schedule is over with this season, as it notched two victories in 11 road games.
This weekend, as they return home, the Minutemen will welcome GW and the Spiders to Rudd Field, two teams that have combined for just two wins on the road this season. Although that seems to play into UMass’s favor on paper, Koch knows as well as anybody that every game in the A-10 can be a toss-up.
In fact, just two weeks ago when searching for their first road victory of the season, the Minutemen rolled into Bronx, N.Y. and defeated Fordham, 1-0. The Rams are now in a tie for first place, which further proves the parity of the conference week-in and week-out.
“Any team can beat any team,” said Koch. “It’s just one of those things, where you are in the standings doesn’t really matter. I think the fact we’re not playing [teams like] Dayton [who are at the top of the standings] doesn’t really matter. What matters is you have to play the teams you are playing and we have to perform against them, because anybody can beat anybody.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.