Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass heads south, hopes tournament chances don’t as well

Bryn Rothschild-Shea/Collegian

The slumping Massachusetts men’s soccer team is hoping a little “Southern hospitality” will help to kick start a stretch run to the Atlantic 10 tournament when it arrives in North Carolina this weekend to kick off a pair of conference matches against No. 12 Charlotte and George Washington.

The Minutemen (4-6-2, 1-2 A-10), who have dropped three of their last four matches by a combined score of 7-3, have struggled to play with any level of consistency this season. With only six regular season matches remaining on the schedule – of which two will be played within the comfortable confines of Rudd Field in Amherst – the need to begin stringing together victories has increased considerably.

UMass coach Sam Koch is not pulling any punches about the difficulty of the task at hand.

“This coming weekend is going to be tough,” he said. “We’re playing at two very tough places.”

Koch and his squad will get their first crack at earning another three points towards a postseason berth Friday at 7 p.m. at Charlotte’s Transamerica Field.

The 49ers (8-2-3, 2-1-1 A-10), an already imposing foe described by Koch as “probably (the A-10’s) preseason favorite,” enter Friday’s tilt on a wave of momentum stemming from a three-game unbeaten streak dating back to Oct. 7.

“Charlotte has got a heck of a schedule and done very well,” Koch said. “When you play at their place on a Friday night, you can’t make a mistake.”

And the 49ers have feasted on opponent’s mistakes this season, resulting in a top five ranking in nearly every meaningful statistical category in the A-10, including shots (second), goals (fifth) and assists (fifth).
For other teams, the daunting nature of a late-season road trip with tournament aspirations on the line might be buoyed by past experience. But Koch, whose squad boasts true freshmen players in a number of key roles, understands that isn’t a luxury the Minutemen can fall back on.

“It doesn’t help, because we’re not that veteran,” he said. “We’re not a veteran group. I think, as we go, we’ll get better at it, but we need to keep working hard.”

For all the weight that Friday’s match carries, UMass goalkeeper Brian Frame is excited for an opportunity to face a staunch opponent ready to pepper him with shot attempts.

“It gets you excited for (the match),” he said. “It’s always going to be a good challenge, going to Charlotte and all those big games. It’s always good to get up for big games and get excited for it.”

From North Carolina, the Minutemen will make their way 400 miles north to the nation’s capital to face George Washington on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Colonials (4-9, 1-3 A-10), who have lost eight of their past 10 matches, including three in a row, find themselves in an outside-looking-in postseason predicament similar to that of UMass.

George Washington, like the Minutemen, has been hampered by inconsistent play this year, due in part to a number of nagging injuries.

One bright spot for the Colonials this season has been the play of the program’s eighth all-time leading scorer, forward Seth Rudolph. Rudolph, who was named to the A-10 All-Conference first team last year, leads George Washington in goals (five), points (10) and shots taken (20).

Even with the chance to pick up some much needed points in the standings this weekend, the UMass players know that time is wearing thin.

“We need a lot of big upsets now,” Frame said. “Now we need to definitely upset one of the top dogs that come later in the conference schedule.”

Key for the Minutemen, if they’re to pull off one of those upsets and successfully traverse the gamut of games standing between the team and a tournament seed, will be their ability to wash away the sour aftertaste of recent struggles.

We have to be ready to play and give them a run for their money,” Koch said. “So we (have to) regroup and get ready for (this) Friday.”

Daniel Malone can be reached at d[email protected] and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.


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