A mix of factors responsible for Minutemen struggles

By Herb Scribner

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team might have silenced its critics when it scratched out a win last Friday against New Hampshire.

However, these critics, upon seeing a Minutemen victory, opened their mouths right up again when UMass suffered a shutout to Vermont two days later.

Even though the team won its first game and scored its first goal of the season, there is still a glaring issue with the goal and win.

Simply, it isn’t enough.

It’s not enough that Bryant Craft scored the Minutemen’s first and only goal of the season in the team’s fourth game. It’s not enough that UMass coach Sam Koch garnered his first win in his 20th season. It isn’t enough that the Minutemen shut-out their opponent in their first win after two periods of overtime.

Even though UMass has a win, the team isn’t any closer to success than it was a week prior as it still suffers from mistakes that were barely aided in its victory on Friday.

What is most troubling about UMass’ recent falters is that there is no easy answer on how to fix it.

One could look at the scoring as a potential flaw in opening the season. Scoring has been a noteworthy issue for the Minutemen as one season progresses to the next.

In 2009, the team could barely conjure a goal and won games on its defensive pressure. Leading scorer at the time, Mark DeSantis, had four goals, with Ben Arikian right behind him with three of his own. In total, the 2009 roster scored 15 goals in 17 games.

A season later, the offense picked up as Koch moved around some players and found top form. Still though, goals were seldom as the Minutemen scored 20 in 18 games. The leading scorer was then-junior Craft with seven goals.

Scoring has clearly been a fault of the UMass lineup in recent history, but much work and preparation has been done to fix this issue.

During this past offseason, Koch retooled the offense by moving midfielder Chris Roswess up top with Craft. In past interviews, both Craft and Koch seem confident about pushing the ball forward and gaining an offensive presence.

While work is being done to aid the scoring woes, the defense is another story.

The Minutemen have done exceptionally well in each of the past two seasons, scoring more or just as many goals their opponents.

Part of that could be due to goalkeeper Chris Piekos being a wall in the posts in years prior to his graduation last spring. His absence this season has been filled by junior goalkeeper Brian Frame and redshirt senior Shane Curran-Hays – two goalkeepers who aren’t nearly as experienced or as mentally tough as Piekos was.

Curran-Hays has had the benefit of watching Piekos and former Major League Soccer goalkeeper Zack Simmons, but his in-game experience is limited.

In the bigger, high-pressure games, Curran-Hays wasn’t given the nod to defend the goal. Same goes for Frame, who didn’t see a minute of action in the past two seasons and has already started two games.

With every game being a high-stakes contest now that the team’s record has plundered into the depths, it’s going to be very difficult for both goalkeepers to perform well.

Is the coaching to blame for the team’s recent downward spiral?

Koch has been at the helm for 20 years and even after his first 16 years, brought the team to the NCAA Tournament. Koch has the ability to bring the team back from the abyss because he has retooled, reshaped and refreshed a lot of squads over the past few years.

Maybe it’s the fact that the Minutemen have been on the road for their first five games.

While playing on the road is difficult for any team in any sport, the Minutemen actually have proven to react contrarily in the past two seasons by posting better away records than home records. This is surprising because in 2007 and 2008, the Minutemen finished 9-1-0 and 5-2-1 at home, respectively.

So what is the major problem for the Minutemen and how do they fix it? They’re trying to work out their scoring woes, they’re trying to get their goalkeepers some solid time in the net and they’re on their way home this Sunday.

The Minutemen are in the middle of a transition year. They’ve just lost their best players from the past four seasons and are in the middle of reworking the entire style and setup of the team.

If the first five games of the season are any indication of what is to come, the Minutemen are staring at season-long struggles. If they can’t fix their problems soon, they’re facing a season without scoring opportunities or many wins.

Simply, one goal isn’t enough.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]