Men’s Soccer: Arikian plays key role in offense

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

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When Ben Arikian plays well, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team doesn’t lose.

UMass will defend its 2007 Atlantic 10 Championship this weekend after earning the No. 1 seed last weekend. Last Friday, the Minutemen defeated No. 10 Saint Louis, 2-1, in double overtime, to secure their spot in the postseason tournament. Two days later, they beat Charlotte, 1-0, to win the regular-season title.

With Arikian at center-midfield, UMass (9-6-3, 7-1-1 A-10) have a good chance at winning a second-consecutive title. The A-10 Midfielder of the Year has assisted or scored the game-winning goal in eight of UMass’ nine wins this season. He leads the team in points (14), assists (six) and game-winning goals (three). He is tied for second on the team for most goals (four) with junior Mark DeSantis.

“He’s a big part of our team. The way he goes, we go,” said UMass coach Sam Koch. “He played really well on Friday and really well [on Sunday] and when he does that we’re not going to lose.”

Arikian has played 93.57 percent of UMass’ season – 1,616 out of 1,727 minutes. He has started in 17 out of the Minutemen’s 18 games and is typically on the field for the whole game. On Sunday it was the first time since Oct. 24 that Arikian wasn’t on the field for the entire matchup – he sat out for two minutes due to an injury.

Arikian’s ability to move the ball around the field, make supporting runs and positioning himself almost perfectly on every play makes him an integral part of the team. He is a key player in UMass’ set pieces, taking corner kicks from the left, shooting right. When Mark DeSantis isn’t on the field, he takes the kick from the opposite side.

Arikian’s talent and game sense, combined with the leadership and experience of senior Mike DeSantis in the center-midfield position are nearly unstoppable.

“[Arikian and Mike DeSantis], the two of them together, when they’re clicking, we’re a hard team to beat,” Koch said.

Last weekend’s two home games were the most crucial matches in the Minutemen’s season to determine postseason play. And that weekend, Arikian played an important role in all three of UMass’ goals.

Against Saint Louis, Arikian served a corner kick to freshman Andrew Henshaw to put UMass on the board first. With 12 seconds remaining Saint Louis tied the game and sent the game into double overtime. In the 108th minute of the match, Arikian dribbled the ball down the midfield, moving his way through the Billiken defense to find sophomore Stuart Amick on the left side. Amick crossed the ball to Mark DeSantis, who scored.

“It’s just a great feeling when you can be a part of both goals, but it’s an even better feeling to be a part of that big win,” Arikian said.

But, little did he know in Sunday’s game he would be part of an even bigger win.

In the first half, he went up to head the ball near center field, but a Charlotte player had the same idea, resulting in a nasty collision. He returned for the second half with heavy bandaging around his head, only to head in the lone goal that earned UMass a regular-season championship title – while ending Charlotte’s season.

“It was pretty cool to score because after I got hurt I was pretty mad that that kid didn’t get a red card,” Arikian said. “But when the goal came, I just saw the ball going over the kids head and just took the opportunity to slide right behind him and the goalie was coming out. I saw where he was and I just popped it right over him. It was a pretty cool feeling doing that.”

The way Charlotte played against Arikian proved how much of a threat he is at offense and defense. Arikian, who can be seen all over the field supporting his teammates or making plays, spent most of Sunday’s game getting fouled.

“Every team we play is going to try and do what they can to stop [Arikian]. They haven’t been able to do it yet,” Koch said. “But he’s definitely getting banged up in the process.”

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]