The Massachusetts women’s soccer team returned to more familiar winning ways at Rudd Field on Sunday afternoon with a 1-0 victory over Albany.
A week earlier, the Minutewomen (2-1) dropped their home opener to UCLA on the pitch that saw UMass lose just twice in 11 games in 2011. Following the match, coach Ed Matz felt the victory meant positive steps in the right direction towards returning to last season’s home form.
“We were pretty solid at home last year,” Matz said. “And we wanted to pick up where we left off last year, especially after losing our home opener to UCLA.”
The Great Danes (0-1-1) did not prove an easy task for the Minutewomen. Early in the match, Albany had UMass pinned deep in its own half, pinging crosses into the box from both wings. However, solid defensive organization meant those crosses did not turn into chances for the Great Danes.
Matz was impressed with limiting the shots on net.
“I thought we did a pretty good job on cutting back on the shots [allowed] today,” Matz said. “We did a very good job cutting back on the quality shots. I think until halftime Stephanie [Gordon] didn’t even have a save.”
Once the Minutewomen settled into the game, they broke and created opportunities from the wide areas. Both Tori Sousa and Jackie Bruno had chances to get on the end of a pair of crosses into the box but were unable to convert those opportunities into goals. Sousa then carved out a chance for Mattsson as she dropped a pin-point cross onto the midfielder’s head, but the shot went straight at goalkeeper Jackie Ubert, who tipped it away.
It wasn’t until the 38th minute that UMass finally converted a chance into a goal. After the Minutewomen won a free kick on the left just outside the penalty area, Gracie Coombs swung a shot in that Kristin Gargiulo redirected past the keeper for the goal.
Although pleased with the goal and substitute Gargiulo’s contribution, Matz was hoping his side would be able to convert more of the opportunities in front of them.
“We would have liked to have gotten a couple more goals,” Matz said. “I thought we were doing a good job through the whole field, but that in the last six yards we weren’t getting on the ends of crosses. We told them to anticipate better, time their runs better, serve the ball in quicker. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities but if we are creating them, that’s a good thing and the finishing will come.”
At just a goal down, Albany didn’t show any signs of letting up in the second half. The Great Danes took nine shots in the half, three more than the first half, but senior goalkeeper Stephanie Gordon was up to the challenge. A pair of long shots were held confidently by the shot-stopper, as well as a corner coming into the middle of her area, in order to maintain the clean sheet.
After the game, Gordon was happy that she and the rest of her squad kept the opposition scoreless.
“Before the game one of our goals was to get a shutout,” Gordon said. “I’m really glad that we got that today.”
The return of Lauren Skesavage was also key to the Minutewomen in preserving the shutout. UMass has at times been playing with three freshmen on the back line and Matz has highlighted the junior captain as a key organizer for the young squad, a role Skesavage relishes.
“I think [my role] is important,” Skesavage said. “Last year, Meg Collins was someone I looked up to, so I strive to be someone they look up to. So with three freshmen and myself as a junior, I do play an important role and I’m honored to be in that role.”
Matz was also impressed with the defense’s effort.
“I thought [the defense] did a very good job,” Matz said. “We keep saying they’re very young but it was good for us to get Lauren back. She’s very composed back there and very good at organizing. Having her back there makes a big difference.”
However, the young team still has much growing to do and little time to do it, as the Minutewomen play host to Harvard before traveling for games against three consecutive ranked opponents. For the Crimson, the Friday visit is their season opener and kicks off at 1:30 p.m.
Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.