Defense, midfield, Arikian look to improve in A-10 competition

By Herb Scribner

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Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team isn’t going to take it easy heading into Saturday’s contest against Siena.

Over the past few games, the Minutemen (1-3-4) have progressed in terms of play. While at first their offense lacked first half goals, UMass notched first-half goals in its 2-1 win against Central Florida and its recent 1-1 draw with Dartmouth.

The defense has been impressive since the beginning of the year and though it has slipped in overtime periods as of late, goalkeeper Chris Piekos continues to excel in between the posts.

But there are three sections of the game that the Minutemen are looking to improve heading into its final non-conference game against the Saints (3-5-0) and then ultimately conference play.

Tighten the defense

Any follower of the recent UMass games can see that its defense has been allowing balls to reach the corners. In its previous game against the Big Green (4-2-1), the back four allowed forward Lucky Mkosana, who boasts one goal and two assists on the year, to receive the ball several times in the far corner.

While Mkosana would lose possession, the defense still allowed him to earn the ball and very nearly set off towards the net. Dominic Skrajewski was one of the defenders that held up the Zimbabwe native.

“I think we still need to stay compact on defense and follow the game plan,” Skrajewski said. “[We need to] play more defensive and then just counter, counter, counter.”

UMass coach Sam Koch also said the defense needs to collapse down a bit more and act collectively.

Meddling midfield

Another area that Koch wants to improve on is the midfield. Similar to the defense, Koch wants the midfielders to collapse down on the defending the ball.

“The urgency to close people down has got to be a little bit better in our midfield,” Koch said.

Skrajewski, who crept up into the midfield during some counter attacks against the Big Green (4-2-1) also believes that the midfield needs to create better chances for the Maroon and White forwards.

“You saw when we got balls out wide and into the box,” Skrajewski said. “Unlimited chances we’re going to get a game and we’re going to win games that way.”

The Minutemen midfield seemed absent during its latest match, especially on defensive efforts. Whenever Dartmouth carried the ball up the pitch the midfield moved back and refused to challenge.

Both defenders David Key and Skrajewski made runs from the back line through the midfield in order to move the ball up, which forced them to sprint back to defend on a Big Green counter attack.

Calming down Arikian

This time last season, midfielder Ben Arikian has two goals and two assists to his name. So far in the 2010, the Herman Trophy Watch List candidate has four assists with no goals.

While Arikian has relied on Bryant Craft and others to get the job done as far as scoring, Koch believes that the senior midfielder’s hot foot will be ignited soon enough.

“I think some of his passes were a little off today, where if we can tighten that up then he’s going to start scoring a lot of goals, so we’re looking forward to that,” Koch said following the Dartmouth game.

Although Koch had high-praise for Arikian, the 21-year UMass coach still believes he can improve his game.

“Can he simplify his game a little bit more? Can he get a couple of other people involved [which] will make him a little bit more effective? I think he can and we’re working on that.”

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]