Minutemen open conference play against Xavier, Dayton

By Herb Scribner

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Geoff King/Collegian

It’s about that time again.

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team opens up conference play when it takes on Xavier Friday afternoon.

“Everybody is 0-0 going into this game,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “It’s the opener. It’s the most important game of our season because it’s the next one we’re playing.”

Both the Minutemen (1-3-5) and the Musketeers (3-2-3) enter Friday’s affair with confidence boosters. While UMass has an edge on XU historically, the Musketeers are riding a four-game unbeaten streak and are ranked 10th in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Rankings.

“We’re not really worried about them, we’re more concerned about how we’re going to play,” Koch said.

Xavier comes into the game on a four-game unbeaten streak, including its most recent victories over IUPUI (1-0) and Alabama A&M (3-2). The streak started with a 1-0 win over Lipscomb, followed by a 0-0 draw against Cincinnati.

Expect the match between the Musketeers and the Minutemen to be highly defensive, as XU has allowed four goals over its first eight games. Leading the way for the Musketeers on the backline is Justin Jarvis, James Queree and Sean Ryan who all have about 700 minutes played this season.

“They’re very good defensively, we know that,” Koch said. “They’ve got two very good center backs, so putting balls in the air in the center of the field is not going to be very productive.”

UMass is no stranger to defensive battles, as six of its opening nine games have been pushed into extra time. The Minutemen have allowed no more than one goal in four of its opening matches, with three of them resulting in draws.

Conversely, both the Musketeers and the Minutemen have suffered from the same problems on the offensive side of the pitch. XU has scored five goals off of 87 shots (29 shots on goal), which gives them a .057 shot percentage. Similarly, UMass has struggled scoring goals, putting away 11-of-113 shots (43 on goal), giving it a .097 shot percentage.

“We got to attack their weaknesses and stay away from their strengths,” Koch said. “We know that they will get back as a team quickly and so we have to, if we’re going to counter on them, we have to do it quicker than they can get back. We have to be able to keep our patience and make sure that we do what we need to do as a team to maintain our discipline and keep our shape.

A key match between the two sides actually comes from completely opposite sides of the field as goalkeepers Chris Piekos and Justin Marshall will both look to impress between the posts.

Piekos stands tall with 42 saves and a .824 save percentage, despite allowing nine goals over the course of the season and not earning a win.

Marshall, meanwhile, has allowed three goals with 29 saves giving him a .906 save percentage.  Furthermore, Marshall has five shutouts on the year while Piekos has one against Fairfield.

“He’s done a very good job, we know we’re going to have to create a number of chances to get one by him, and that’s what we plan on doing,” Koch said on Marshall. “He’s been very good for them, he’s a solid keeper. Now we’re in the Atlantic 10 and now we’ll see how he does against Atlantic 10 competition. He’s solid; we know we have to play well to beat him.”

In 2009, the Minutemen conquered the Musketeers, 1-0, thanks to a header by defender Andrew Henshaw. The junior will not only return to Rudd Field to face XU, but he already has a goal to his name after a low-corner shot which gave UMass a short-lived edge against Vermont earlier in the season.

The season-opener for the Maroon and White will be its eighth game at Rudd Field. Sunday’s game against Dayton will be UMass’ final contest of its eight-game home stretch.

On Sunday, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team will host its second game of the A-10 regular season when it takes on Dayton. The match against the Flyers will also be the final contest of an eight-game home stretch for the Minutemen.

Dayton (4-4-1) enters into Rudd Field looking to defend its A-10 regular season championship. The Flyers finished first in the A-10 conference last campaign, and made it to the final of the playoff tournament until it fell to Saint Louis, 2-0.

Historically, UMass has the slight edge over Dayton with an 8-7-1 record. The single draw between the two sides came during a contest in the 2007 A-10 tournament, which the Minutemen advanced by penalty kicks (4-3). Following the draw, UMass’ hot-streak continued en route to the NCAA tournament and even a run at the College Cup.

Last season was a different story for these two sides, as Dayton held the clear edge over the Minutemen with a 1-0 victory. Piekos stood in the net for UMass, and made a then career-high eight saves.

The Maroon and White defense will be put to the test against the Flyers, who averaged over one goal of game through its first nine matches. Dayton has scored 13 goals this fall off of 58 shots on goal.

Senior Tommy Watkins leads the Flyers with three goals on the year. Prior to entering the 2010 season, Watkins had two goals to his name.

Freshman Jordan Beckett and sophomore Evan McCreary sit behind Watkins on the offensive front, tallying a pair of goals in the Flyers’ campaign. McCreary also has two assists to his credit.

In the net for Dayton will be Tyler Picard, who has played all 845 minutes for the Flyers this season. Picard has 31 saves on the year with eight goals allowed.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]