The Massachusetts men’s soccer team will play in Vermont’s Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Windjammer Classic this weekend hoping to build upon a pair of strong defensive showings in its opening weekend.
UMass (0-1-1) allowed only a single goal in two showings against Evansville and Bradley, coming to a scoreless draw against Evansville and losing to Bradley, 1-0, in consecutive overtime battles.
Now, the Minutemen look to make greater strides against both New Hampshire (1-1) and Vermont (1-0-1) in what UMass coach Sam Koch described as a “huge weekend.”
Koch acknowledged the challenge both teams posed for his young squad while particularly highlighting UNH, which defeated Evansville in the same tournament a week ago.
“New Hampshire I think is one of the better New Hampshire teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Koch said. “They work off the ball very well, they have a good understanding with each other and they have three, I think, very good players.”
Koch hinted that UNH may provide his team with a good sense of where it progressed early in the season.
“I think it’s going to be a great game, a great test for us,” he said. “We have our work cut out for us no doubt. New Hampshire is the game we have to worry about right now.”
If UMass is going to beat the Wildcats, it’ll have to slow down their potent attack. Fortunately for the Minutemen, goalkeeper Nick Ruiz was on top of his game in the opening week, allowing just one goal in two contests.
Josh Schwartz, the Minutemen’s leading point scorer from a year ago, was impressed by Ruiz’s importance.
“He played great, really well,” Schwartz said. “(Ruiz) has been great, big time saves.”
Koch expanded on Schwartz’s sentiments.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start. Obviously we were snake bit a little bit. We gotta get him to be able to talk to the snakes better so we can get some goals for him and he won’t get bitten,” Koch added in a humorous moment referencing the team’s lack of early goal scoring.
While Koch made light of the current situation, there’s a sense the offense needs to capitalize on more opportunities going forward.
“Bottom line is you gotta put your chances away to win games and we haven’t done it,” Koch said. “Is it a concern? It’s a concern. Is it a major concern? Not right now. The whole emphasis right now is making sure we defend well and I think we showed this weekend we can do that.”
Schwartz brushed off any ideas that the offense was an issue despite UMass being outshot 41-19 through two games.
“Not so much, we’re getting used to each other,” he said. “We were defending a lot, we were really tired after the first game. In all honesty, the first game we should’ve won I think, we had some chances in the second half and the overtime but I think we’re gonna keep progressing. I’m not too concerned right now.”
The Minutemen will take on New Hampshire on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.