Defense strong as Minutemen roll

By Jackson Alexander

Exactly two weeks have passed since an opponent scored a goal against the Massachusetts men’s soccer team.

Jeff Bernstein/Flickr

Jeff Bernstein/Flickr

During that stretch, the Minutemen have climbed to fourth in the Atlantic 10 standings and with five conference games left, they control their own destiny.

The turnaround for UMass could be credited to an assortment of factors that all revolve around the superlative play of the Minuteman defense as a whole.

First and foremost, redshirt senior goalkeeper Shane Curran-Hays deserves a large portion of the credit as he has not allowed one goal against him over the past three games.

“Shane has done a better job, our back four is playing well together, and our midfield is doing a better job picking up and defending as a group,” said UMass coach Sam Koch.

Curran-Hays opened the season on the bench, looking on as the Minutemen were outscored 5-0 in their first two games. At that point, Curran-Hays earned a shot in goal, and hasn’t looked back. With four conference games under his belt, he’s cemented himself as one of the best goalies in the A-10. He ranks fourth among all conference goalies in goal-against average (0.95), third in save percentage (.821) and fourth in shutouts (four).

“Technically he’s very sound, his command of the back four and his ability to direct the four defenders in front of him is very good,” added Koch.

The Camp Hill, Pa. native was not an instant success story upon his arrival at UMass. In fact, he’s experienced some adversity in his five years in the program.

Curran-Hays did not see the pitch until his redshirt sophomore year when he started eight games and posted a 3-4-1 record. The following year he saw no time in net because of the presence of standout keeper Chris Piekos. Before this year, Curran-Hays played in eight games during his four years at UMass.

“We knew he was capable, it was just unfortunate that he had two very, very good goalkeepers in front of him,” said Koch. “We’re happy he’s getting the chance to play.”

While Curran-Hays gets the credit on the stat sheet for the three shutouts, the Minutemen defense is equally responsible for those performances.

“Shane has certainly done a good job making some saves when he’s had to, but I think the guys in front of him have done a good job making his job easier.”

As a team, the Minutemen have allowed 1.21 goals per game, good for 4th out of 14 A-10 teams.

Up until their last three games, UMass had struggled to find consistency in their back four.

That’s changed, however, with new-found cohesion amongst defenders David Key, Matt Keys, Dominic Skrajewski, Andrew Henshaw, and Nigel Negm. Koch credits all of these players as major contributors to the defensive line.

Even with its recent success, Koch says there’s still improvements to be made.

“We still have areas that we need to work on, we’re still giving teams more chances than I want to give, so we’re trying to get better in that area too,” said Koch.

The UMass forwards have also worked to fortify the defense, as players like Josh Schwartz, Zach Miller and Chris Roswess have doubled back to help out defensively.

“I think it’s a full-team effort,” said Koch. “You have some front runners coming back and stripping balls off midfielders feet.”

Jackson Alexander can be reached at [email protected]