Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Early season experimentation for UMass men’s soccer

The Minutemen will put their work to the test at BU Friday night

By Will Katcher, Collegian Staff

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As the Massachusetts men’s soccer team prepares for Friday’s game against Boston University, it continues to search for a lineup that can move the ball cohesively throughout the field.

Despite retaining its defensive four from last year’s Atlantic-10 Championship, UMass (2-1-1) faces a reset of its core midfield after the graduations and departures of several key members, including Alex DeSantis, Connor O’Dwyer, Matthew Mooney and Henry Steinkamp.

“It’s still a work in progress,” head coach Fran O’Leary said. “We’ve got a lot of good players returning and we’ve brought in a lot of new players… I think it’s important that we develop a defensive identity and that we get our team shaped.”

Part of this process has included moving sophomore Davis Smith, the top scorer off last year’s squad and a member of the All-Conference First Team, lower in the field in order to utilize his skills in the midfield.

Smith has thus far worked with sophomore Eli Cronin in the middle alongside senior Kevin Boino and junior Yosuke Hanya. Hanya is a new addition to UMass after playing for Japan’s under-19 national team earlier this year. This unit has been complemented by Stephen Ravazzoli, Jared McCleary and Chandler O’Dwyer.

Despite initial difficulties, Smith said that this group has made progress in early season matchups and practices.

“It was kind of like a misconnection we had in the midfield,” he said. “But I think me and [Cronin] are doing a good job filling the role that [DeSantis] and [O’Dwyer] did last year, connecting the midfield to the strikers.”

Even with several new athletes, much of the team has played together before, and Smith said that the Minutemen will continue to use some of the tactics that brought success last year, albeit with a slightly different lineup.

Smith’s success last season and the attention he has received in recent months hasn’t gone unnoticed by competitors.

“I’ve noticed that in the first couple of games, it’s not quite as easy to move around the field. I usually have one or two people on me,” he noted.

Following Thursday’s practices, O’Leary underscored the work his team has put in to adapt to uncertainty with the new roles and prepare for their upcoming matches.

“The work ethic, the mentality has been terrific,” he said. “You can move people, you experiment with people, you can change formations but it doesn’t really mean that much if you don’t have a good bunch who are devoted and dedicated. Our core returned, they’re a group that’s into soccer, they’ve done us proud in the past, and they’re showing good leadership now.”

Come Friday night, the Minutemen will take their new-look lineup to Boston University’s Nickerson Field, where they hope to become the first team of O’Leary’s tenure to win on that pitch.

Despite last year’s home victory against the Terriers (currently 0-2-1), and the fact that UMass has outscored them six to three so far this year, O’Leary was aware of the difficulty of playing BU on its home field.

“We’ve been there a couple of times, we’ve come out on the wrong side,” he said.

Regardless of the outcome Friday night, the Minutemen will continue to work to improve their lineup and connectivity in the coming weeks. With five additional contests before the first Atlantic-10 game on September 29 – a home match against St. Bonaventure – there will be plenty of time to shift players and tactics.

“We’re working our attacking shape,” O’Leary said, “and it’s getting better by the day.”

 

Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @will_katcher.

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