What a difference a game makes.
Riding a grueling five-game losing streak and in need of a spark, the outlook was not promising for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team as it took the field against Bradley University on Saturday in the team’s final match before Atlantic 10 play.
Following a difficult stretch in which the Minutemen (2-8-0) gave away leads to Dartmouth and Boston University, UMass appeared to be heading down a similar path as Christian Meza netted the equalizer for Bradley (6-2-2) in the 74th minute.
However, the Minutemen got the spark they desperately needed as Brett Canepa fired a shot past the Braves’ diving goalkeeper, Brian Billings, in the 85th minute in a game that appeared to be headed for overtime.
“Everyone worked hard, [all] 11 guys on the field, and we got the ‘W,’” said Canepa.
Not only did UMass snap its losing streak, but the team beat a national contender in the process, as the Minutemen handed Bradley its second loss of the season.
After the game, UMass coach Sam Koch focused more on the win than the significance of the team they beat in the process.
“It feels good to beat anybody,” said Koch, who noted that his team had been struggling and in need of a positive result.
Much of the Minutemen’s struggles had been a result of a lack of offensive production, but UMass managed to net a pair of scores, a feat it hadn’t achieved all season.
The Minutemen created one quality scoring chance after another, especially in the first half in which they dominated play in every facet. UMass tallied 10 shots in the opening frame, which is the most the team has accumulated in any half over the last seven games.
On the other half of the field, the Minutemen defense kept Bradley’s powerful scoring tandem at bay in the first, with freshman Matt Keys using his size to neutralize Braves forward Bryan Gaul, whose size and striking ability make him a difficult matchup for defenses.
“I thought we played as good a first half as we’ve played,” said Koch.
The Minutemen brought plenty of intensity into the match, which featured two teams whose seasons were heading in different directions. UMass refused to back down, playing with energy and determination throughout the contest, even after Bradley tied the game late in the second half.
“Everybody wanted [this game] going into A-10s,” said Canepa.
Koch has been stressing the importance of getting the Minutemen clicking on all cylinders as they prepare to start their conference schedule on Friday with a home match against Charlotte.
Despite the end result, Koch said his team still has some kinks to work out, including closing games. Before Canepa’s goal, the Braves had all the momentum and almost forced UMass into overtime.
“We haven’t won too many games so we have to learn how to win,” said Koch.
It is no secret that the Minutemen have struggled to start the season, dropping eight of their first nine matches. However, Saturday’s win may prove to be exactly what UMass needs to erase the memories of its earlier struggles and deliver the confidence needed as the Minutemen prepare for the most crucial part of their schedule.
“It’s huge,” said Canepa. “We’re halfway through the season and this is when it’s all going to turn around.”
The Minutemen welcome Charlotte to Rudd Field on Friday to begin conference play, which includes nine consecutive A-10 opponents to end the season.
“We need to come in with the same momentum and hopefully [we] can get the victory again [to] start off A-10s,” said Canepa.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.