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UMass men’s soccer looks to overcome youth, inexperience

Change is in the air for the University of Massachusetts men’s soccer program.

The team hasn’t won more than five games in each of the last three seasons, prompting coach Sam Koch to overhaul his roster by bringing in 13 true freshmen. While the production may take some time — the team has only two goals in five games (0-4-1) — Koch is generally pleased with the direction of the team.

“Is (the offense) a concern? It’s a concern. Is it a major concern? Not right now,” Koch said. “The whole emphasis right now is defending well and I think we showed this (past) weekend we can do that and now we can move on to working on the offense.”

Heading into the season, Koch knew the youth on the team would need time to jell. He also knew it was a necessary change to reverse the program’s fortune.

“We had two years where we didn’t do very well, three years where we had players who weren’t as invested in trying to make us a better team,” Koch said. “In all honesty, their passion wasn’t there and they really didn’t want to play that much.

“We brought in a bunch of guys who really have a passion to play,” he added. “These guys have shown they really want to be on a winning team, they have the work rate and the dedication to do that.”

UMass will try to mesh without the leadership of senior captain Brett Canepa, who tore his ACL last spring during workouts. Canepa is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season.

Josh Schwartz, who led the team with five goals and 12 points last season, is expected to guide the offense.

“I think everybody has to be a leader at some degree no matter how old you are,” he said. “Matt (Keys) is doing a great job this year being our real captain until Brett comes back from his injury. So there’s an added pressure to be a leader for the other attackers but otherwise I think Matt’s doing a great job with the team in general.”

Keys will lead the defense.

“We’re going to defend a lot better than we did in the past which will help our offense a lot more because we’ll be winning balls a lot earlier and a lot deeper,” Koch said.

The Minutemen opened the season with a scoreless overtime tie against Evansville and a 1-0 overtime loss to Bradley. The team then lost 1-0 to New Hampshire, 3-2 to Vermont and 1-0 to Hartford. The defense is there for Koch’s squad and he believes the offense is on its way.

“I think the games could’ve gone either way, obviously they didn’t,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a question of changing or revamping anything, we just have to continue to get better.”

One of the early standouts is redshirt freshman goalkeeper Nick Ruiz. Through five matches, Ruiz has allowed six goals and made 30 saves.

With an inexperienced team, UMass must learn to limit its mistakes.

“It’s one part of the game, the mental part of the game, which I think is hard for young players to understand,” Koch said. “You have to focus all the time.”

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