Guarded Optimism

Ryan Thomas

When a team is loaded with talent top to bottom, the best effort and hardest work is not always a necessity. It’s possible that the team could waltz through certain games, going through the motions, and still give themselves a chance to win.

But when talent is at a premium, young players blotter the roster and injuries crop up before the season even starts, sleepwalking through games against lesser schools isn’t an option. Effort has to be 100 percent all game, every game.

That’s what Myles Berry, men’s soccer coach at UMass Boston has been driving into his players this pre-season, leading up to the team’s first regular season game against Fitchburg State College. Having lost their top scorer and playmaker – Maynor Sanchez – and another very talented midfielder in Guilherme Goncalves, just to name two, the Beacons can’t be lackadaisical at all. They can’t let off the gas for even one minute.

“The theme, what we worked really hard on in pre-season and what we’re trying to do this year is just outwork the other teams,” Berry said. “Just close them down and defend and make it hard for them to create their chances.

“We’re probably going to have less chances on our offensive end so we’re just going to try and work harder on our defensive end to close things down.”

So far this season, Berry has been very candid about the fact that his team may struggle on offense, having lost Sanchez’s nine goals and two assists, along with Goncalves’ four goals and two assists. Offense will be at a premium, so the team’s approach there will have to change, or evolve, from 2007.

“It’s going to be a team effort rather than an individual effort,” said Berry. We don’t have a guy like that (Sanchez) that can create that instant offense. We don’t have that guy.

“We’re gonna have to have more combination plays between players that send a guy through so that he can have a shot on goal, rather than Maynor taking on two [defenders] after receiving a bad ball and making something happen.”

Changing the approach on offense won’t be seamless or without its speed bumps, but Berry has been playing with two different configurations on the field to figure out what works best with the players he has. In the team’s last pre-season game against Tufts, Berry played a 4-4-2 (four defensemen, four midfielders, two forwards), which is what was used almost exclusively last season. He also was playing with a 4-5-1, which adds and extra midfielder, leaving only one forward.

In that set, Berry says, “the forward receives the ball and plays it back to the midfield and then they’re gradually catching up and attacking as a whole.

“That might be something you see during the year.”

Something that will be seen a lot more than Berry’s 4-5-1 will be the Beacons’ most talented player, Romeo Zeqo, playing at the midfield position. Last season, Zeqo split time between forward and midfield, but Berry said that, “at this point, if we put Romeo up front, I’m not sure if he would get the ball.”

With his size, footwork, speed and agility, playing midfield exclusively will get Zeqo more involved. “He’ll get more touches on the ball, he’ll be able to have more of an effect on the game being in the midfield,” Berry explained. “He has the freedom to go forward and I hope he does.”

Romeo led the team in points last season with 22 and was second in goals (8) behind the facilitator he is replacing. Help for Zeqo, which he will need, and the Beacons offense has arrived in the form of transfers Matt Parentela (Holyoke C.C.), Collins Dibia (Bunker Hill C.C.) and Mourad Chibane (Bunker Hill C.C.). All three are strong, versatile players whom Berry hopes will contribute this season.

The optimism is guarded, but Berry still hopes that, when fully healthy, his team can at least match last season’s win total of eight games and compete for one of the top four spots in the Little East Tournament.

“I like the way these guys are working, if nothing else,” he said.