A prolific offense that helped the No. 7 UMBC men’s soccer team open the season with nine consecutive wins is not as productive as it once was, and the unit could be forced to play against America East foe UMass Lowell without two key starters.
Senior forward Pete Caringi III is doubtful after sustaining a concussion in the Retrievers’ 0-0 double-overtime tie with Binghamton last Saturday. Senior midfielder Kadeem Dacres was assessed his fifth yellow card of the season in that contest and must serve a mandatory one-game suspension.
Caringi (Calvert Hall) leads the offense in goals (10) and points (22), while Dacres ranks second in both categories (six goals and 15 points). If Caringi cannot play, he will likely be replaced by sophomore Michael Scott. Dacres' position will be filled by either senior Travis Dennis or junior Stephen Ho.
Ho has recorded two goals and three assists in 15 games (12 starts) this fall, but Dennis has scored just once in 13 games (four starts) and Scott is looking for his first goal in 10 games.
"We’re taking a lot of goals off the field and we're adding not many goals," UMBC coach Pete Caringi Jr. said Thursday. "That's not an exciting formula, but you’re hoping that they play true to form. I have a lot of confidence in these guys, and this is really their time to step up. I use an analogy that you hear a lot in football, but it’s the next man up. That’s been the philosophy that I’ve had here in the past. So these guys will get their opportunity, and I have confidence in them. It’s their time to step up.”
The personnel moves won’t lighten the burden on an offense that has scored just three goals in its last four contests. What is worrisome to Caringi Jr. is that the team has spent a lot of time recently trying to sharpen the offense.
“We were doing a lot of things that helped us score goals and now we may be pressing a little bit,” he said. “I definitely think that the scouting report is out there. Binghamton didn’t come out to play at all. They packed it in and they were at home. Earlier in the year, teams were more likely to come out and play straight up, and we had our chances and we scored.
"Now, teams are packing it in. Since we’re nationally-ranked, they’re content to come away with either a draw or hope to knock one in and then play good defense. I think there's been a changing of strategy in how people play us. That can be a frustrating way to play against teams. … But you’ve got to find a way to knock a ball in the goal, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
One comforting thought for UMBC (12-1-2 overall and 3-0-2 in the America East) is that the team has already clinched a spot in the upcoming conference tournament. A victory over UMass Lowell (3-12-1, 1-3-1) could strengthen the Retrievers’ grip on first place in the league standings and move them one step closer to capturing the regular-season title, the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the America East tournament.
"That's a silver lining, but our goal all along is to make a run here at the end," Caringi Jr. said. "We wanted to secure a spot, but we want to secure home-field advantage and we want to win the regular season. We have goals that we set at the very beginning of the year. Getting a playoff spot is great because that's goal No. 1, but the next two games are important to us – not only for the conference in terms of where you’re seeded, but to put yourself in a good position in the conference tournament.
"And if you do well then, then NCAA-wise, you're going to put yourself in a better position. Every game is important for down the road and your eventual goal of hoping to be successful in the America East tournament and the NCAA tournament, but none of that happens if we’re not successful in the next two games. So I think we’re aware of that because I think people sometimes have a tendency to talk about the NCAA tournament versus where you are today. We don’t have the luxury of being able to look that far down the road."