Following his team’s 4-0 loss to Charlotte last Friday, Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Sam Koch preached to his players the importance of “getting a result” in Sunday’s match at George Washington if the Minutemen have any hopes of making the Atlantic 10 tournament.
The players responded well to Koch’s message, dominating the Colonials to a 3-0 win – the program’s largest margin of victory since a 4-1 win over St. Bonaventure Oct. 17, 2008.
The task is no different for UMass (5-7-2, 2-3-0 A-10) this weekend as its playoff hopes yet again hang in the balance when the Minutemen host the Bonnies and Duquesne at the friendly confines of Rudd Field Friday and Sunday, respectively.
“For us to have a real shot at the playoffs we have to win these next two,” Koch said.
UMass is currently one of five teams tied for ninth in the conference standings and only the top eight teams make the tournament. However, the Minutemen’s six points sit one behind the three teams holding the six through eight spots.
What makes this weekend’s matches in particular even more crucial is that St. Bonaventure (4-11-0, 2-3-0 A-10) and the Dukes (5-9-1, 2-2-1 A-10) are in situations comparable to that of UMass.
The Bonnies come into Amherst Friday for a 2:30 p.m. match as one of those fives team battling for a spot in the tournament while Duquesne comes in Sunday at 1 p.m. currently clinging to one of those final tournament spots with a mere seven points in conference play.
While both games are pivotal if the Minutemen want to continue playing past the regular season schedule, Koch said he his players to approach this weekend taking it one game at a time.
“You can’t think of anything else but St. Bonaventure first,” he said.
What does give Koch confidence about his team’s chances going into Friday’s game is the Bonnies struggles on the road – St. Bonaventure has only won one road game this season – and UMass’ success at home.
The Minutemen are 3-2-1 at Rudd Field this season, and hope that home-field advantage carries over this weekend.
“It’s huge. It’s a much different game when you play at St. Bonaventure versus St. Bonaventure playing here,” Koch said.
He said he thinks the players “know they have a good chance to get a result but they also know that we have to play well.”
But Koch also knows a win isn’t going to be handed to them.
“St. Bonaventure is certainly capable of beating us so we have to be prepared and mentally ready for the game, there’s no question.”
Last year’s meeting resulted in a scoreless tie at McGraw-Jennings Field.
This year’s Bonnies squad has struggled, averaging 1.13 goals per game while allowing 2.53 to its opponents. However, junior forwards Brad Vanino and Emmett O’Connor won’t make life easy on UMass. Both players lead the team with 12 goals while the rest of the team sits behind the rest of the pack. The closest Bonnies player to that figure is junior midfielder James Reed with five points.
Consistency has certainly been lacking in goal for SBU, which has started three different keepers at least three times with senior goalie Abel Bautista leading the way with a 1.39 goals-against average and a .782 save percentage in nine appearance and eight starts.
“One thing St. Bonaventure has done particularly well in the past is they move the ball very well, they’re a good ball-handling team,” Koch said. “We need to make sure they don’t get out to an early lead and just run out the game.
“We have to make sure that they have to chase us. When they have to chase the game they’re a different team.”
The Minutemen struggled mightily against the Dukes on the road last season, as a Joshua Patterson hat trick in the second half lifted Duquesne to a 4-0 triumph over UMass.
Unfortunately for the Minutemen, last season was Patterson’s junior year and the team-leader in goals (10) and points (21) will be on the field Sunday when UMass stares in the face of a potential must-win situation.
With Sunday being a big game for both teams, it is expected that freshman goalkeeper Sam Frymier will make his 13th start of the season. Frymier has impressed thus far, holding a 1.27 goals against average and .807 save percentage despite a 4-7-1 record.
Although both teams present their respective share of challenges, Koch has spent the current week at practice focusing on what his team can do to win games and what flaws need to be addressed. Koch focused on the midfield play in particular.
“We have to do a better job of marking up at midfield and stopping their attack from being built,” he said.
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.