Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer looks break scoring drought against Albany

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

It’s no secret that the Massachusetts men’s soccer team has struggled on the offensive end of the field so far this season.

The Minutemen (0-4-1) have mustered just three goals in the first five games in 2016; meanwhile opponents have scored 12, averaging over two goals per game.

While these statistics look bleak early in the season, UMass coach Fran O’Leary understands that this is part of the rebuilding process of a young team.

He has spent the early part of the season measuring the success of the team through their incremental improvements on the field and keeping the team’s morale positive.

This Tuesday, the Minutemen will face a team that has also endured a slow start to the season in Albany (1-2-1). Statistically, the two teams have faced similar hardships in both scoring and being outscored with the Great Danes only scoring three goals in four games, compared to their opponents eight.

Despite what they might suggest, O’Leary knows better than to read too much into in the numbers.

“They’re off to a slow start,” O’Leary said. “Though with the exception of Syracuse, they’re probably one of the most talented teams we’re facing during this part of the season.”

“Their record doesn’t show it, but they’re an incredibly dynamic team. We’ve watched the tape from last season, and they can open teams up. You’ll find anomalies like this early in the season, and sometimes it’s just bad luck or lack of finishing,” O’Leary added.

This air of caution comes from the experience of last season when the same dynamic Albany team held UMass to just four shot attempts, including zero in the first half as the Great Danes mounted a three-goal lead that ended in a 4-0 victory.

The offensive end

The end goal for every game is to win, but for a team in the rebuilding process, both the coach and players understand they are building toward the long-term future.

A major reason UMass has struggled to produce offensively has been its inability to maintain possession of the ball long enough to create scoring chances. However, O’Leary feels his team is beginning to improve on that.

“I think against (Boston University) we created several chances and our ball movement was a lot better,” O’Leary said. “The first thing we need to do is make sure that when we win the ball that we’re confident enough to pass the ball, pass it forward, and then get bodies into the box.”

O’Leary plans to make ball circulation and a willingness to get open a priority in order to transition a bit from the physical play style of constantly putting the ball in the air and then competing for possession.

“Again going back to BU,” O’Leary said. “We were much better at knitting passes together and trying to play between the lines, but sometimes when you’re under pressure, you just need to clear it.”

The second point of emphasis for the Minutemen offense pertains to set pieces. In its previous game against the Terriers, UMass scored its lone goal off of a throw-in, and one of the two goals BU scored came from a free kick.

“Some say that set pieces count for 60 percent of goals scored,” O’Leary said. “A big emphasis this week will be on making sure that we are plus-one on those set pieces, because that can be the difference between winning and losing.”

The Minutemen should have plenty of opportunities to work on set piece play both offensively as well as defensively with Albany already accumulating 19 corner kicks this season.

The game is set to kickoff on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Rudd Field in Amherst.

Nicholas Souza can be reached at [email protected]

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