UMass heads into A-10 play with much to work on

By Herb Scribner

Jeff Bernstein, Collegian Staff

After playing enough extra-time minutes to add an extra game to its non-conference schedule, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team starts Atlantic 10 play on Friday when it hosts Xavier.

The non-conference schedule hasn’t done any favors for UMass (1-3-5), which heads into its matchup against the Muskateers with one victory.

If the Minutemen struggle out of the gate, UMass coach Sam Koch and the rest of the Maroon and White will have to work on key concepts they have yet to perfect thus far in the campaign.

Mastering the counter

The Minutemen offense hasn’t had any fluidity that is present in successful soccer squads. In fact, Koch has preached in the past that UMass’ counterattack offense is the key to its scoring.

One piece to the puzzle of the counterattack that hasn’t been placed is the midfield connecting to the forwards. Often times during these matches, forwards Bryant Craft or Hellah Sidibe receive high-long balls from defenders such as David Key or Dominic Skrajewski.

More so, the Minutemen haven’t displayed an attacking midfielder that can control the ball at the center of the pitch and move it along to eventually begin developing a play. Midfielder Ben Arikian, who is fourth all-time in assists for UMass, has the ability to be this attacking midfielder, though often finds himself drifting towards the strikers position.

Finishing the ball

UMass’ rejuvenated offense takes a flurry of shots each game.

In its latest match against Sienna, the Minutemen took 21 shots, with six on goal. While UMass scored two goals in the contest, one was from a penalty kick.

During their non-conference schedule, the Minutemen had multiple chances with an open net which they failed to score on. Goalkeeper Chris Piekos was even frustrated over the lack of finishing and pushed for it to be a part of the UMass practice routine.

Compared to last season, the Minutemen are doing considerably better with finishing. Entering A-10 play last year, UMass scored eight goals (28 on target) while this season it’s knocked in 11 balls off of 43 shots towards the net.

Defensive collapse

Koch has preached all season to his team about making sure the defense marks its men and holds tight in goal-threatening situations, especially in the midfield.

While the defense is one of the top-performing parts of the Minutemen squad, most of the goals scored on it are due to small slip-ups in the backfield. Going into preseason play, the Minutemen sit tight with a 1.44 goals-against average, with 13 goals allowed.

Part of the defensive strength comes from Piekos, who has been tough against opponents. While Piekos was in the net for two of the Minutemen losses, he still has held off a slew of attacks from the opposition.

Key and Skrajewski, both of whom have started all nine games this season, have hounded the ball when it reaches the back four. Andrew Henshaw has also made contributions, including a goal on the opposite side of the pitch.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]