Youth, inexperience highlight UMass men’s soccer in 2013

By Patrick Strohecker

Editor’s note: There were a pair of statistical errors made in the original report. First, the UMass men’s soccer team actually last made the postseason in 2008. The Minutemen did not qualify in 2009. Also, UMass’ record last season was incorrectly reported at 4-13-2. The Minutemen finished the 2012 season with a 5-11-2 mark.

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team hasn’t made the postseason since 2009. If it wants that trend to change this year, it will need to receive production from unexpected sources.

After stumbling to a disappointing 4-13-2 record last season, it seemed like 2013 could only be better. The progression may have to wait another year, however, as this season has the makings of another rebuild.

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

“The young group is certainly eager, certainly fit, certainly passionate and disciplined to a point because they don’t know what it takes yet,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “They haven’t been in live fire is the way to put it… so we’ll have to see just how tough of a transition it’s going to be.”

UMass returns 13 lettermen from last year’s squad, but only five of them are upperclassmen. Those five are also the only returning players who saw significant playing time in 2012.

“Their experience, that a lot of these younger players don’t have, is vital in terms of being able to help these younger players,” Koch said. “So, there’s no question that the younger players look to them to find the answers to the questions that they have.”

The offense brings back three key parts from last year’s team, including Josh Schwartz, who led the Minutemen with 12 points in 18 appearances.

Defensively, senior Nigel Negm and junior Matt Keys helped UMass record five shutouts last year and will be asked to help solidify the back end once again.

But, the biggest hole that the Minutemen will need to fill will be at the most important position on the field: goalkeeper.

UMass was backstopped in every game last year by Brian Frame, who led the team in minutes played and sported a respectable 1.66 goals against average with five shutouts.

Without Frame, the starting spot for the Minutemen is up for grabs.

Of the three keepers on the roster, only sophomore Nick Ruiz was on last year’s squad. Despite being redshirted and not seeing any action in the fall season, his progression as a keeper during the spring makes him the man to beat for this year’s starting job.

“Well, I think Nick Ruiz did a very good job in the spring season, shutting out Rhode Island, shutting out Adelphi at the end of the year,” Koch said. “So he’s obviously the guy that the other guys have to beat out.”

Even with the three keepers battling for their respective playing time in net, they haven’t let that affect their relationship as close friends.

“It’s a lot different in terms of how they train,” Koch said. “They all really work hard together. They train well together. They push each other together. They respect each other. It’s a good working relationship and can certainly be a cutthroat situation, but it’s certainly not that.”

UMass isn’t a team that typically relies on upperclassmen. Koch likes to expand his bench, but this could be a completely new situation for both the coach and the team.

With so many inexperienced players, it may take time for everyone to get on the same page and be ready to play at the collegiate level.

“We have a sophomore class and a freshman class that don’t have a lot of game time, so we’re going to take some lumps,” Koch said. “We’re going to make mistakes that a lot of juniors and seniors wouldn’t make, but I feel like they’re a good group and they’re going to learn quickly.”

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