Breaking down Saint Louis’ defense will be challenge for UMass women’s soccer

The Billikens have only surrendered eight goals this season


(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Noah Bortle

The Massachusetts women’s soccer team heads into their final weekend of regular season play, starting with a home matchup against first-place Saint Louis.

UMass (10-4-1, 5-2-1 Atlantic 10) will hope its defense can ruin what has been a perfect season so far in the A-10 for the visiting Billikens (13-3-1, 8-0-0 A-10).

The two teams come into the matchup heading in opposite directions. The Minutewomen have only managed to take four points away from their last four games, which includes two losses. On the other hand, Saint Louis has not allowed a goal in their last three games.

“They’re the top team in the conference and they have beaten the other teams that are in the top three or four at the moment,” UMass coach Jason Dowiak said.

UMass’ recent struggles are despite stellar play by its defense. Over the past four games the Minutewomen have conceded no more than one goal in each match.

It will be a battle of strengths as the Billikens have only let A-10 opponents score three goals this year. This tight defense has been at the forefront of Saint Louis’ success this season.

“They, like us, have limited the number of goals,” Dowiak said, “Scoring against them is great, but it is no different than scoring against [other A-10 opponents].”

One player who has been invaluable for the Billikens is Alli Klug. The junior defender was a third team All-American last year and has not missed a beat in 2018, being in the center of Saint Louis’ A-10-best defensive unit.

“They have a great center back, I think she was on the Hermann [Trophy] watchlist at the beginning of the season,” Dowiak said of Klug. “I think its probably a big reason why they have prevented so many goals. They’re a good team that is confident right now.”

Klug’s counterpart on the UMass side is junior Jenna Thomas. Thomas has anchored the Minutewomen defense, which has proved to be a strength for the team. UMass has conceded only eight goals this entire season.

“Jenna, and all of them in the back, are just great with the ball,” Dowiak said, “but then, they are maybe even better with their reaction when we turnover possession to win it back.”

Both teams have spots in the A-10 tournament locked up, with only seeding still on the line for the two teams. The Minutewomen currently sit in sixth place but could finish with a top four seed depending on the outcome of the next two games.

“Winning would really set us up to feel like we are more than just a dark horse in the tournament, and actually a potential favorite,” Dowiak said.

Though Saint Louis has rolled through the A-10 thus far, UMass hopes to find a way to break down its tough defense. UMass could not only play the role of spoiler to the Billiken’s quest for a perfect conference season, but also give a mid-table UMass team confidence heading into the postseason.

“We’re looking at the goals they gave up, looking at the spaces that they gave up,” Dowiak said. “I feel like it could be a really good match.”

The Minutewomen will play host to Saint Louis Thursday at 3 p.m. at Rudd Field.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.