Men’s soccer: set-piece scoring the goal for Minutemen

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

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With two home games this weekend and a chance to boost its record, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team will look to set pieces to increase its scoring chances.

Set pieces are like set plays. Having successful strategies and executions are an important goal-scoring opportunity that the Minutemen have begun to take advantage of.

During a match, it can be a struggle to move the ball down the field and finish shot attempts. But with set pieces, a team has a much better chance to follow through and score goals.

Set pieces come off corner kicks or free kicks, giving the team a chance to set up and create chances. The person taking the kick, usually junior forward Mark DeSantis or sophomore midfielder Ben Arikian, know where the rest of the Minutemen will be making their runs. They know where to put the ball even before they take the kick.

“If you execute [the kick] correctly, as far as the timing of the runs and the service, it’s a very good opportunity to get a good chance on goal,” UMass coach Sam Koch said.

In the past, the Minutemen have been very dangerous on set pieces. Towards the end of the 2007 season, the Minutemen became more successful on kicks, scoring multiple goals off set pieces in postseason play.

This season the Minutemen have just started to take advantage of set pieces, although they aren’t lacking the opportunities. Compared to last year the Minutemen have had 10 more corner kick opportunities, and more chances (34) than their opponents (29). UMass’ opponents have committed more fouls (76) than UMass (67), giving the Minutemen another advantage.

This season, they have not gotten a goal off of a corner kick, but Arikian has created two successful opportunities off fouls. He shot a free kick to the box where senior Chris Brown headed in the game-winning goal against Siena on Sept. 6 and last weekend in the 2-1 loss against New Hampshire.

Arikian served a free kick to senior Mike DeSantis for his first goal of the season

“I think we’re certainly creating a lot of chances [off set pieces],” Koch said. “We need to do a little bit better job on them. I think its one of those things as the season goes we will get better and better at it.”

This weekend, set pieces will be crucial, especially for the Minutemen who have spent most of the season focusing on their defense and haven’t had as many goal-scoring opportunities.

“To beat Hartford’s goalkeeper [junior Nenad Cudic] we’re going to have to be a little bit better at our execution because anything that’s off he’ll be able to gobble it up, he’s a solid keeper,” Koch said.

If Mark DeSantis and Arikian (DeSantis takes corner kicks from the right side shooting left and Arikian takes the kicks on the left shooting right) service the ball where the Minutemen have practiced and the team is making solid runs they will have better success on the set pieces.

“I think both of them [DeSantis and Arikian] serve a very good ball into the box,” Koch said. “But we’re going to have to have perfect execution on the timing of the runs and the service.”

The Minutemen are hoping to use set pieces as scoring opportunities during the tournament this weekend, but other teams will try and take advantage of them too, so the Minutemen’s defense has to be aware of opponents’ attacks on set pieces.

UMass defends every corner kick the same way; by setting up in a shell zone defense. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Zack Simmons is responsible for a specific area, as is the rest of the Minutemen’s defense.

“I look for the exact same thing every time in that I make sure my defenders are in the exact same spot and I’m ready to cover my area,” Simmons said. “Outside of that, you look for any particular targets that might be especially dangerous and you kind of point them out and are aware of where they are. For the most part it’s the same every time.”

Because the Minutemen have struggled to put balls in the back of the net it is important that they continue to take advantage of set pieces, as well as defend them properly.

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]