Minutewomen desperate for offense this weekend

By Steve Levine

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For the Massachusetts women’s soccer team, their recent five-game unbeaten streak seems like it was ages ago.

The Minutewomen were riding high into last weekend’s matches, when an awakened offense and stellar goaltending carried them into a five-game unbeaten streak. That newfound confidence was quickly put in check, however, as UMass was knocked down a few pegs by Atlantic-10 rivals, Saint Louis and Charlotte.

Offensive woes                                                          

One week ago, the Minutewomen arrived in Missouri for a match they believed would extend their streak to six against the Billikens. Those hopes quickly faded though, as the Billikens outshot UMass, 28-3, en route to a 4-0 victory.

On Sunday, the Minutewomen replicated their poor performance in North Carolina against Charlotte, falling to the 49ers, 4-0. UMass was outshot 24-8 in the match, again struggling on the offensive side of the ball.

UMass coach Angela Napoli attributes various factors to her team’s offensive woes this past weekend.

“It was a combination of things. They were two very strong teams first and foremost who were very fast on the field,” Napoli said. “I think the travel took a lot out of our team, and with some rest, we probably could have competed a lot better.”

The lack of offense has been a running theme for UMass this season, and before last weekend, that problem seemed to be dissipating.

“I think the losses really came down to us. They’re good teams, I don’t want to take anything away from them, but I don’t think we played very well,” Napoli said. “Whenever we made a small mistake, they were consistently taking advantage of it.”

The Minutewomen took things away from those games and converted them to the practice field this week, where Napoli worked on various aspects of the game with her team.

“We’re trying to become more aggressive in our own box,” Napoli said. “We were working on clearances, head balls, and attacking the ball in our box. We also continued on things we’ve been practicing all season, like our transitions from defense to offense.”

Cota to remain in net

Shortly after being moved to number one in the depth chart, freshman goalkeeper Emily Cota was named to A-10 Co-Rookie of the Week honors. Her stellar performance in the box was a big part of UMass’ five-game unbeaten streak. After letting up eight goals in two games, coach Napoli still has supreme faith in her young keeper.

“We are still sticking with Emily,” Napoli said. “Of the eight goals scored on us, seven were great. She also had her fair share of big time saves. Yes, eight goals went in, but it easily could’ve been more.”

With goals hard to come by, there may be an increased amount of pressure on Cota to deliver impeccable outings. On top of that, senior Lauren Luckey remains as a very solid number two option.

“I don’t think Emily feels too much pressure. The only pressure maybe she feels is because if she doesn’t perform, there’s a great keeper right behind her,” Napoli said. “She gets excited for games and she wants to be in games. I don’t think she looks to the pressure side of it, she’s just a competitor who wants to play her best.”

Looking ahead

The Minutewomen will play two games this weekend at home against the Explorers and the Rams.

“These games are huge. We have a big advantage at home on our grass field,” Napoli said. “La Salle and Fordham play on turf, so it’s a different surface that plays slower than what they’re used to. Also, our players will be in their regular routines and in their comfort zones.”

The Explorers (6-5-2 overall, 0-3-1 A-10) and the Rams (3-9-1 overall, 2-2-0 A-10) are teams that UMass want to take advantage of early in the season.

“Those early wins help a lot,” Napoli said. “If we can get four wins in the first few weeks of conference play, it will increase our chances for the tournament later.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]