We determined after Brown that in order for us to be successful “something had to change.” What I have found in my years of soccer is that every team, at some time, will reach this point. The point where they have just suffered an inexcusable defeat or poor performance and their season is not shaping up to what they had expected and hoped for. This kind of unwarranted loss exposes all the flaws that are concealed or ignored by winning. We harp on the phrase “something needs to change” but no one specifies what that “something” is. I personally think that the attitude often exemplified by this phrase is the easy way out. Too often it is nothing more than focusing on vague and meaningless words, it is like talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
At some point, all this talk about change really becomes a mantra of missed opportunities. It’s not going to prevent that disappointed drive home from the A-10s at URI after losing in the first round or worse yet, being let down after missing the A-10 tournament by a few points. And although it’s a tough dose of reality, on the ride home from Brown, that is where I felt this team was headed. It’s the first real lack of confidence I’ve had since coming to Amherst!! We missed the opportunity to earn a point against our top opponents – although we had chances to do so in all three games. We missed the opportunity to earn a solid non-league RPI with losses to good (but not great) opponents in Harvard and Brown. 5-5 is ok, but not where I want to be, and certainly not where this team should be.
On past teams that I have played on, this moment that requires a change to occur would be reached, not due to a lack of talent (we had plenty of that), but because of work rate and team chemistry. However, I do not think that this pertains to our team this year or that this is our “something”. The effort is there at every practice, but focus is sometimes lost. I think that we have great team chemistry, but at times we are still trying to get to know one another on and off the field. We use the excuse that we are young and cling to the belief that our mistakes will magically be corrected through experience, but the simple truth is that this experience requires time that we do not have. I think that our “something,” that elusive change that will prompt immediate success and beget wins, is desire, and more specifically, the passion and the uncontrollable NEED to win. Not a fear of failing (all college soccer players have plenty of that) but the desire to win at any cost. We need people to step up and change the flow of games. We need big plays at important times in games. We need players that not only want to be that hero who scores the winning goal – but who needs to be that hero.
If we continue with this type of motivation, not just a refusal to lose, but need to win - we will be successful in the latter part of our season. You can talk about how technical and talented a team is all day, but what it really comes down to in a league like the A-10 is who wants it more on that day. The team that comes in better prepared tactically and then better executes their plan will be the winner. It’s only right that our first A-10 challenge is against Dayton. After the past two years, we owe them a tough game. Games like the upcoming one with Dayton is why we play the game of soccer. We are back to where we were last year against La Salle. None of the experts expect UMass to win. But that doesn’t matter as long as the people in our locker room believe it. Furthermore, this year we can’t just believe it, but we have to play like we NEED to beat Dayton. So, we may be the underdogs going into Friday’s game, but I wouldn’t count us out. We’ve proven we can play with the best and now it is time to prove that we can beat the best.