Arguably one of the greatest parts of sports is that there’s always “next season.” And for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team, next season is now.
After stumbling to a disappointing 4-13-2 record last season and finishing in 12th place out of 14 teams in the Atlantic 10, the Minutemen look to put last season behind them and start fresh in 2012.
“Luckily it is no longer last season,” senior goalkeeper Brian Frame said. “Preseason has already been a step in the right direction. The team has a whole new atmosphere and energy, which should help us get started off in the right direction.”
The team is looking to get off to a better start in order to avoid the mishaps of last season. Last year’s squad opened up its 2011 campaign with one win in its first nine games, with a 1-0 win over New Hampshire. The win was followed by a five-match losing streak that lasted for nearly a month.
It was injuries that caused the troubles early on, UMass coach Sam Koch said.
“The bottom line was we had an incredible amount of injuries last year,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “When you have that many quality players out of your lineup, your team just is not as strong.”
The injury issues subsided though as conference play picked up. The team earned points in five of their last 10 matches in 2011.
Another positive the Minutemen can carry into this year is their strong group of returning players. UMass returns 14 members of last year’s team, including its top two scorers: Brett Canepa (seven points) and Josh Schwartz (four points).
“We’re bringing back a lot of guys from last year, which is going to be beneficial because chemistry is a key element to do well at the Division I level,” Canepa said. “We have a great group of guys coming back that are pushing the new guys and showing them the ropes to be the best that we can be.”
Last year’s starting goalkeeper, Shane Curran-Hays, will not be returning. Curran-Hays, who played in 17 of the team’s 19 matches, went 4-11-2 and recorded five shutouts last season.
The senior Frame will stand between the posts and try to fill the void. He was winless in two games.
Frame said the experience he had backing up Curran-Hays will help him fill his shoes this fall.
“I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work alongside a player like Shane and that has been the best preparation for the new role I am filling for the team,” Frame said. “I have gotten a chance to train with some extremely talented goalkeepers over the last three years and their influence has helped immensely.”
While the goalkeepers have been strong for UMass in recent history, the team’s offense has constantly struggled.
Last season, the team scored nine goals in its 19 games last season, including 11 shutouts and only one contest where it’s scored multiple goals.
“We had a tough year last season and some of the areas the team, as a whole, is working on is getting into the attacking third and getting our chances and putting the ball in the back of the net,” Canepa said.
If the team can manage to put a few more balls in the back of the net, it should see its record improve drastically. The defense was a strong point for the team last year, only surrendered 27 goals in its 19 games for a respectable 1.42 goals-against average.
UMass received a late boost in the preseason, when it was able to hire veteran college coach Devin O’Neill to be an assistant coach, replacing Roy Fink after he took the head-coaching position at the University of New Haven.
O’Neill joins the Minutemen staff after a two-year stint at Bradley and brings in 18 years of coaching experience. He will be responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the team while Koch undergoes cancer treatment.
The Minutemen kicked off its preseason campaign with a 2-0 loss to UConn on Aug.12 .UMass opens its 2012 season with three straight home contests, with the first one on Aug. 24 against Delaware followed by matches against Vermont and Harvard.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter at MDC_Strohecker.