Minuteman offense off to a slow start

By Patrick Strohecker

It wasn’t for a lack of good attempts.

After going its entire opening weekend — over 200 minutes of play — without scoring a goal, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team is still searching for that elusive first goal.

Even with two straight shutouts to start the season, Minuteman coach Sam Koch didn’t seem concerned, but, instead, admitted that he thought his team just ran into good goaltending.

“The Evansville goalkeeper did a great job,” he said. “He saved two balls that I thought were in. The Bradley goalkeeper was outstanding as well. We went against two very good goalkeepers.”

Still, a lack of scoring is becoming a trend for UMass (0-1-1) since it last made the College Cup in 2007. The Minutemen have seen their goal production steadily decline, with the low point coming in 2011 when they scored only nine goals the entire season.

In 2012, UMass failed to score in its first three games of the season and only had one goal in its first four games, so it is still at least a couple games away from being a serious cause for concern.

“The bottom line is you have to put your chances away to win games,” Koch said. “We haven’t done it. Is it a concern? It’s a concern. But is it a major concern? Not right now.”

The offense had numerous question marks entering the season, primarily trying to figure out where its production would come from.

The Minutemen only returned five upperclassmen from last year’s five-win team, with only Josh Schwartz, Brett Canepa and Peter Alvarenga having any significant impact on the offense returning.

But with Canepa, the team’s captain, out for the first part of the season with a torn ACL, Schwartz, last year’s leading scorer, took it upon himself to be one of the leaders of the young offense.

“I think it’s just all about building the relationships with the other forwards,” he said. “We’re playing with three forwards this year, so it’s a little bit different, but definitely trying to get everyone on the same page. I can take responsibility.”

Heading into this weekend’s Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Windjammer Classic in Burlington, Vt., UMass will again be facing two tough opponents in New Hampshire and Vermont, both of which have strong goalies that will make it tough to score.

Despite the lack of goals to open up the season, Koch took away a positive from last weekend’s goal-less games and doesn’t see a need to change any tactics heading into this weekend.

“You know, we had chances to win both games in the overtimes,” he said. “I think the games could have gone the other way. Obviously they didn’t. But I don’t think it’s a question of changing, or having to revamp everything, we just have to continue to keep getting better.”

There were glimpses of hope from some of the new players in the first two games and one in particular that caught Schwartz’s eye.

“Matt Bolduc is a huge threat on the wing,” Schwartz said. “I think we’re just going to keep progressing. I’m not too concerned.”

As for Koch, he still sees that one of the main ways to generate offense is to make sure his squad plays tough on the opposite end of the field.

“Do we have to work on our offense? No question,” Koch said. “But we have to continue to keep working on our defense to make it.”

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.