Men’s Soccer: Minutemen reach for tourney

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

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After a shaky start to the season, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team has a chance to secure a spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament this weekend.

Since the start of the season, UMass coach Sam Koch expressed the importance of winning Atlantic 10 games. In the first game of A-10 play, UMass (7-6-3, 5-1-1 A-10) lost to Rhode Island. Since then, the Minutemen have not lost a game.

If UMass beats No. 10 Saint Louis (9-2-5, 5-2-0 A-10) on Friday, it’ll clinch a playoff spot. Winning on Sunday could clinch or share the regular-season conference title for the Minutemen.

“Winning the conference title, the regular season title, would be a great accomplishment. I’m sure that will help [the team] focus,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “Our main goal is to make the Atlantic 10 tournament. A win on Friday will accomplish that, and then we can worry about the title after that. The main thing is to get the result on Friday.”

It has been UMass’ goal since the start of the season to make it to the A-10 tournament, but after a rocky start it didn’t look like it was going to be so easy for the Minutemen. In their first A-10 game, they lost 1-0 to Rhode Island on Oct. 12. After the game, Koch discussed with his team what they had to do to secure a spot in the tournament. Since then, the Minutemen have been improving each week, all in preparation for this weekend.

“Now, this weekend is here and we’re playing much better. We still have some things that aren’t 100 percent on, and how well we do will determine the outcome of these games,” Koch said.

The Minutemen need to communicate better in the back, make sure they don’t get caught stabbing for the ball and keep their composure, team shape and stay compact. Doing that will allow them to defend as a team.

“We have to do that for the whole 90 minutes and if we do, I’m sure the results are going to be in our favor,” Koch said.

With two tough opponents this weekend, it’s important for the Minutemen to use the momentum they’ve gained in their six-game unbeaten streak and their home-field advantage to come out of the weekend with a berth into the A-10 tournament.

St. Louis is known to be dangerous with their off-ball runs. When the Billikens are attacking, they have second and third runners that come through supporting their teammates with the ball. They have accurate service and are one of the most skilled teams the Minutemen will face all season. UMass’ speed will help them against Saint Louis because the Minutemen can move forward faster and use their quickness to defend on the counter-attack.

This is a crucial weekend for UMass, Saint Louis and Charlotte. Depending on who comes out with the win, it could secure a spot for the team in the A-10 playoffs. The Billikens are expected to win the tournament, but without a successful weekend they may not qualify.

“We’re in the playoffs now, these are two playoff teams. This’ll give us a great indication about how far we can go, and if we can go. Anything can happen on any day,” Koch said.

“The main thing for us is to play well as a team, stick to our game plan and stay focused for the 90 minutes. We’ve been able to do that much better,” Koch said. “Can we now do it in these two games which are our two biggest tests? We’ll find out.”

Koch and the Minutemen are confident that if they go out and play their best this weekend, they’ll be practicing at Rudd Field on Tuesday, preparing for the A-10 tournament.

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]