Minutemen head to Syracuse seeking first win

By Patrick Strohecker

It hasn’t been the type of start to the 2013 season that the Massachusetts men’s soccer team hoped for.

After a season-opening tie against Evansville, UMass (0-7-1) has lost its last seven matches, including a 2-1 loss Sunday against Harvard, a team that was also winless before defeating the Minutemen.

Wednesday’s game at Syracuse poses one of UMass’ toughest challenges to date, but that hasn’t hindered Minuteman coach Sam Koch from thinking positively.

“It doesn’t get any easier, but I feel good that these guys are going to be able to compete,” Koch said following Sunday’s game. “But I think we’re going to be a much tougher opponent for them than what they think, and I think this could be a perfect time for an upset.”

An upset by UMass may seem like a long shot, considering that the two sides are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of wins and losses.

The Orange (5-2) are coming off a victory over Duke, giving them three wins out of their last four games, while the Minutemen are struggling to score goals, let alone win games.

The goal against Harvard on Sunday was only the team’s third all season in eight games. But, if last year’s first-ever meeting between Syracuse and UMass was any indication, Wednesday could be a competitive match.

Last season, the Minutemen dropped a 2-0 decision against the Orange at home at a time when they were ranked inside the top 25. This season, Koch believes that Syracuse is a better team than last year, but thinks that his team has what it takes to make the Orange struggle.

“We’re excited to play against them,” he said, “and excited to make it as difficult for them to play as we can. And the more we can disrupt their rhythm and get them out of their comfort zone, the better chance we have to win.”

Putting the Orange’s talent aside, the quick turnaround from Sunday’s game to Wednesday’s match provides a challenge of its own.

The task is a tall one, but it is all in Koch’s plan to get the team prepared for conference play.

“We’ve stressed this whole time that these games are getting us ready for the Atlantic 10,” Koch said. “And you look at Syracuse as a great opportunity to play against a team that … There’s no team in the Atlantic 10 that’s going to be better than Syracuse, so here’s a great test for us to see if we’re getting better in the areas that we’ve been focusing on.”

If it is all about preparing for conference play, then Wednesday starts a tough stretch of games for UMass.

Even though Syracuse isn’t currently ranked, the team did start the season nationally ranked and is making a strong case to get back into the top 25 after its win against Duke.

Following Wednesday’s game, the Minutemen have one non-conference game remaining at home against Siena, before starting A-10 play.

Wednesday’s game against the Orange is scheduled for kickoff at 7 p.m. at the SU Soccer Stadium.

 

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