Men’s Soccer: Team notebook

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

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Three games into the season and the No. 13 Massachusetts men’s soccer team is 2-1. The beginning of the season has been a test to show the team what it needs to work on before Atlantic 10 conference games begin on Oct. 12. “After the first five games we’ll know what kind of team we are, how good we are and the areas we need to get better at,” UMass coach Sam Koch said before the first game on Aug. 29. “We’ll be tested in these five games.” The test has just two games left, this weekend at the Old Dominion STIHL Classic. The Minutemen will be playing Old Dominion on Friday and William ‘ Mary on Saturday. The Minutemen have learned a great deal so far. They need to improve on their midfield, increase the speed of the game and limit extra touches on the ball, but overall they didn’t give up many chances in the first three games. “[There are] definitely still things we need to work on, but that’s why you keep playing the game,” Koch said. The Minutemen scored when they needed to, making each game exciting for the fans and players. On Aug. 31, in a match against Boston University, senior Prince Ofosu scored a game-tying goal with three seconds left in regulation. The Minutemen won the game with a goal from Ben Arikian at the beginning of the second overtime. The next weekend, the Minutemen had a similar golden-goal experience, this time it wasn’t in overtime, but with 1 minute, 8 seconds left of the match against Siena on Sept. 6. Senior Chris Brown headed in Arikian’s direct-kick for the only goal of the game. Working on defense The Minutemen lost two key defenders coming into this season due to graduation, Kenny Cook and Doug Rappaport. This has devoted the majority of practices to focusing on core defensive strategies. As the most recent match against Siena showed, the Minutemen’s strategies seem to be working. “If we’re not sound defensively it doesn’t matter how good offensively we are,” Koch said. Anchoring the defense is Brown who, after his game-winning goal on Saturday, has shown his versatility and leadership for the Minutemen. They played successful defense against Siena, only allowing three shots on goal, and with the help of senior goalkeeper Zack Simmons they shutout the Saints. UMass will focus on making sure its defense is sound and organized by not losing focus when the ball is in the opposition’s end. Doing so will limit the number of breaks opponents have and be more successful on the counter-attack. Reserves step up UMass returns 8 of its 11 starters from 2007. This gives the Minutemen a strong core of players, but that doesn’t mean the reserves are any less important. In the match against Siena, the reserves had ample opportunities to prove that they are an important asset to the team. Now that many players got the opportunity to play in the match last Saturday, the character of the team is important because not every player saw time on the field. The attitude of the team needs to stay positive to keep practices rigorous and beneficial for the team’s improvement. “What they don’t understand, the guys at the end of the bench are the most important players on our team,” Koch said. “We need them to be focused and to be energetic and to make training difficult and intense. Without them we’re not going to do well.” With the reserves stepping up, there is pressure taken off of returning players that tend to be targeted. Junior forward duo Bryan Hogan and Mark DeSantis have yet to tally goals this season, but with the help of reserve Ofosu, the Minutemen are still creating scoring chances. The diversity and skill level of the reserves will continue to help the Minutemen throughout the season. Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]