COMMENTARY: Minutemen can’t find net

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

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Brian Tedder/Collegian

With 11 days left before its first Atlantic 10 game the Massachusetts men’s soccer team is still struggling to score goals and get wins. But if the Minutemen (2-4-2) play anything like they did last year and peak at the right time, which is now, they will be able to pull off enough wins to make it to the A-10 tournament.

Advancing to the tournament is UMass’ goal this season. To move on, the Minutemen must win six of their nine A-10 games. But first, they have to start scoring goals.

Since the start of the season, the Minutemen have been focusing on making sure their defense is strong, because if the defense isn’t there to defend, there is no point in being able to score goals.

“Most importantly we have to be solid defensively. If we do that we’re hard to beat. Worst case scenario is we tie someone 0-0,” UMass coach Sam Koch said at the beginning of the season.

Now that the season is well underway, the defense has proven itself to be strong. All-American Zack Simmons and Chris Brown anchor the back. With the support of the rest of the back four, usually Stuart Thompson, Dan Lepone and Andrew Henshaw, they are all making up for the loss of Kenny Cook and Doug Rappaport to graduation.

All of UMass’ losses have only been by one goal. Opponents have scored nine goals on the Minutemen and have outshot them by four (for a total of 108 shots to UMass’ 104).

Like Koch said, the worst case scenario is a 0-0 tie. But now, the Minutemen can’t be happy with a tie. They need to start scoring goals and winning games because six ties aren’t going to carry them to an A-10 Championship title.

Since the defense isn’t the problem in the Minutemen’s record, that leaves the offense. UMass has scored seven goals this season, none coming from last year’s leading scorer and strategic finisher Bryan Hogan. But making up for Hogan’s lack of points are Prince Ofosu, Ben Arikian, Mike DeSantis, Bryant Craft, Chris Vaccaro and Brown. Ofosu is the only one who has scored more than one goal.

Just because other players are stepping up and scoring, doesn’t mean the Minutemen will succeed without Hogan and Mark DeSantis’s scoring ability. Mark DeSantis has a natural left foot, which makes him a major offensive threat that is able to play midfield and attack. UMass needs to start finishing on every attempt.

Last weekend in the UMass Classic, the Minutemen were unable to score a single goal, but it doesn’t mean that there was a lack of opportunity – UMass outshot Vermont 14-13. They were also unable to come away with a win, taking last place at Rudd Field, where they are suppose to play well (last year’s record at home was 9-1-0).

When it’s hard to score regularly, set pieces are always an opportunity, especially for a team that has so many chances on them – opponents have fouled 101 times to UMass’ 86 and have had 42 corner kicks to UMass’ 40.

But with all of the opportunities, where are the goals?

Koch joked after last weekends games that the net needs to be bigger or the ball needs to be smaller. Maybe that would help the Minutemen get the ball in the goal. Either way, they aren’t going to win those six needed games if they don’t start putting the ball in the back of the net.

There is still hope for the Minutemen to win those six games. The Minutemen are in practically the same position as they were in 2007. They were 5-4 going into A-10 play, and Hogan had only scored two goals (he totaled eight in the season). They had scored nine goals at that point and only allowed eight.

Throughout the season the Minutemen have slowly improved on their weaknesses. At the start they struggled with off-ball runs, supporting passes and working as a team. Now, the Minutemen seem to have that all down, and only need to work on their offense.

The Minutemen believe that they will be able to improve enough by the time A-10 play begins. They know they need to work on their offense and finishing on their shots. This week in practice UMass is turning its focus to that.

But where was the Minutemen’s scoring ability and intensity at the beginning of the season? Yes, it’s hard to play with the intensity needed during conference play when games don’t necessarily matter, but when the team was ranked No. 13 and then dropped off the polls it should tell them something about where they are headed.

If they do improve their scoring, keep up their intensity (similar to that in the Vermont game last Sunday), continue to have a solid defense and play as a team, the Minutemen will be successful in A-10 play. They will see similar success as they did in the 2007 season.

These next 11 days is the real deal. It is the Minutemen’s last chance to prepare for the important games. With one non-conference game left on Oct. 7, against No. 1 Wake Forest, it will be the last test for the Minutemen to see where their offense is. But it won’t come easy against the defending NCAA college cup champions.

The game will give them one last chance to see what else they need to improve on before their first A-10 game on Oct. 12 against Rhode Island (the winner of the UMass Classic).

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]