Minutemen begin conference play on right foot

By Steve Levine

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Despite a 1-3-5 start to the season, the Massachusetts soccer team turned it around last weekend when it shut-out Xavier on Friday and tied Dayton on Sunday for a 1-0-1 start to conference play.

Prior to Friday’s match, the Minutemen hadn’t won since Sept. 17. Two days later, they lost to then-ranked No. 24 Indiana, 2-1. The proceeding four games all were decided in double-overtime, with the Minutemen going 0-3-1.

The first half could not have gone better for the Minutemen, who jumped out to an early lead when midfielder Stuart Amick scored his third goal of the season. Amick’s goal was set up by forward Chris Roswess, who dribbled through traffic on the right flank before sending a low cross to Amick, who one-timed his shot past Xavier goalkeeper Justin Marshall in what proved to be the game-winning goal.

UMass midfielder Morgan Brandso scored his first collegiate goal in the 38th minute to give the Minutemen a 2-0 lead. Brandso, a sophomore, headed a high cross from forward Bryant Craft into the top-right corner. After Marshall appeared to have made the save, the ball was ruled to have crossed the plane of the goal line.

It was the first 2-0 lead UMass had going into halftime this season.

“The first half went well, we dictated the play, possessed a lot, and did the things that we talked about in practice all week,” UMass assistant coach Walter Boyd said. “We got down the flanks on them and we were dangerous in and around the ‘6’ which is what we’ve been trying to do. Luckily we held on in the second half and eeked out a [2-0] win.”

The second half wasn’t pretty for the Minutemen, who were out-shot, 14-1, and out-cornered 8-0.

“The second half wasn’t good for us,” Boyd said. “Playing with a lead and keeping that lead is something that has been foreign to us this season. It’s something that we’re going to have to get used to and get better at.”

UMass goalkeeper Chris Piekos was strong once again, with five of his six saves in the second half en route to his first shutout of the season.

“We got a little complacent in the second half and Xavier took advantage of it,” Boyd said. “They had us on our heels and luckily we held on and got the shutout. Piekos and the rest of the defense are all deserving of the shutout so I’m happy for them.”

“[The win] feels great,” Brandso said. “We haven’t won in a long time. We’ve been going into overtime after overtime and it was getting frustrating but it was good to win today. Hopefully we’ll carry [this momentum] with us, ride this wave of confidence and hopefully go far.”

The Minutemen appeared very confident on Sunday against Dayton, especially after receiving an early goal from midfielder Ben Arikian to put UMass up, 1-0.

His goal came in the 14th minute when Craft sent him a long pass up the field. The play seemed to be broken up by Dayton’s defense but a bobble allowed Arikian a one-on-one with Dayton’s goalie Tyler Picard who couldn’t make the head-on save.

It was Arikian’s first goal of the season as it upped his point total to seven. With the assist, Craft extended his team-lead in points to ten. The duo is first and second on the team in points, respectively.

UMass’ attempt at winning its second-straight conference match fell short when it gave up a game-tying goal midway through the second half. The goal came on a strike from Oskar Kretzinger that beat Piekos to the left post.

The second half again belonged to UMass’ opponent, as the Minutemen were outshot, 10-5. UMass coach Sam Koch understands his team must play better in the second half.

“If we held them off the board, this game could have certainly gone better,” Koch said. “We’re still having trouble in the second half, we’ve got to figure that out and we haven’t been able to do that well enough or quick enough. But it was better today than it was on Friday, but that’s something we’ve got to work on to play with the intensity and the focus on for the full 90 [minutes]. I think when we do that we will be a tough team to beat, but until we do that we’ll have some tough times.”

UMass was out-shot, 3-0, in the first overtime period and again relied on Piekos to make important saves. The second overtime period held just one shot – a blocked shot by Arikian.

“These are the games that count [and] yes, they’re more intense,” Koch said regarding conference play. There’s no question that these games are very critical. As far as each one, they mean more than the non-conference games. The idea is to improve each week to get better each week, whether it’s conference or non-conference.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]