Minutemen to host Hartford in home opener
The start of the season was far from ideal for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team. But a return home could be just what the team needs to finally crack into the win column.
After going winless in their season-opening four-game road trip, the Minutemen (0-3-1) turn their attention to Hartford in their home opener at Rudd Field on Wednesday.
“It’s always nice to play at home, so we’re looking forward to it,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “More than anything, we’re looking forward to playing the next game, since we’ve been improving over our last few games.”
During the road trip, UMass squared off against four tough opponents: Evansville, Bradley, New Hampshire and Vermont, but only managed a single draw in its first game before losing the next three.
On top of that, the Minutemen only recorded two goals in all four games, both scored in their last game, a 3-2 loss at Vermont. Although one of the goals UMass allowed against the Catamounts was an own goal, Koch says the other two were due to a lack of focus by his team.
“The two other goals, we just, unfortunately, fell asleep,” he said. “One was late in the first half where we just weren’t set and ready, which is poor game management on our part, where we just didn’t get our number back fast enough and thought it was halftime before it was.
“The second goal, we just got caught out of position on the one area of their game that we warned each other about, which was the counter attack … and for a split second, we fell asleep.”
Now the Minutemen can put the road behind them and focus on taking care of business at home.
Despite the recent down years for UMass, Rudd Field can be a tough place for any opponent to play. Last year, the Minutemen earned four of their five wins of the season at home.
The stakes on Wednesday are higher than a normal game, however: ending a losing streak is on the line.
UMass hasn’t beaten Hartford since 2007, having lost their last four meetings. But that misfortune is behind the team now.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we want to beat them,” Koch said. “Do we have a personal vendetta against Hartford? I wouldn’t say so. … We’re a young team and a lot of our team doesn’t even know who Hartford is. … I wouldn’t say it’s a grudge match or anything like that, more than it’s the next match.”
There is light on the horizon for the UMass team, because heading into the home opener for the Minutemen is the play of freshman goalkeeper Nick Ruiz. Despite allowing a season-high three goals against Vermont, Ruiz has backed his team in every game.
Through his first four games as a college starter, Ruiz has played every minute for UMass, posting a solid 0.848 save percentage and very respectable 1.17 goals against average. His play in net earned him Atlantic 10 Men’s Soccer Rookie of the Week honors last week and has made him the backbone of a relatively young defensive group.
“There’s no question that he’s done very well,” Koch said. “The first weekend, he handled a lot of shots, but I give credit to his back four in front of him that they did a good job of making a lot of the shots very predictable, which made it easier for him.”
Kickoff for Wednesday’s home opener is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Rudd Field.
Hartford-based radio station WKSS is teaming up with Comcast to do a live remote broadcast from Rudd Field for Wednesday’s game. Fans in attendance will have a chance to win prizes, including drawstring bags, sunglasses, CDs, DVDs, water bottles and many more giveaways.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.