Men’s Soccer: Defense led by cast of characters

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

If a team lacks defense, it doesn’t matter how many goals it can score.

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team (10-7-3, 7-1-1 Atlantic 10) has nothing to worry about defensively. Since the start of the season, its defense has meshed together to make a back line that can rarely be penetrated.

Starting for the Minutemen in the back is anchor Chris Brown and junior Stuart Thomson in the middle, Dan Lepone and Andrew Henshaw play the sides, and the best goalkeeper in UMass history, senior Zack Simmons is the voice on the field.

Henshaw and Thomson have stepped up and filled a hole left by Doug Rappaport and Kenny Cook. At the beginning of the season it was unclear how well UMass’ defense was going to be with two core defensemen gone, but Henshaw and Thomson have filled in perfectly to create a strong force in the back.

Thomson has gained a lot of experience this season, starting in 19 of the 20 games the Minutemen have played. In his two previous years playing for the Minutemen he earned playing time but didn’t make an impact on the field like he has this year. Thomson scored his first career goal, and game-winning goal, in UMass’ 2-0 win against George Washington on Oct. 26.

Henshaw has played in 17 of the Minutemen’s games (starting in 14). After his first few games he began to gel with the team and has earned more playing time. Henshaw has scored a goal and tallied an assist in his freshman campaign.

“[Henshaw and Thomson] are key in the fact that the defense is now much more together,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “Brownie and Danny Lepone, you knew they were going to play well. To be honest, Danny struggled at the beginning of the season, but he certainly cleaned it up and has been playing very, very well down the stretch.”

This weekend, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Minutemen’s defense will need to continue its strong play when they take on No. 26 Harvard (11-5-0) on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Rudd Field.

Harvard has scored 34 goals this season – averaging 2.12 goals per game. Crimson forwards junior Andre Akpan and senior Michael Fucito have each scored nine goals this season.

“[We have to] do whatever we can to stop their two front runners,” Koch said. “I think we’re defending well, certainly playing better than we were at the beginning of the season, which is a good thing because we want to keep playing.”

The Minutemen have allowed 17 goals this season. Simmons has earned seven shutouts in the 255 shots that he has faced. His save percentage is one of the best in the Atlantic 10 (.827) – averaging less than a goal per game to be scored (.80).

If the Minutemen continue to play a team defense, with help from center midfielders sophomore Ben Arikian and senior Mike DeSantis, it will be hard for Harvard to penetrate the back line, and if it does, Simmons has shown his capability to handle tough situations.

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]