The Massachusetts men’s soccer team can look back at each of its last three games and key in on one play that has turned a draw or a win into a loss.
Wednesday was no different for UMass in a 1-0 home-opening loss to Hartford at Rudd Field.
The Minutemen (0-4-1) and the Hawks (3-0-1) were locked in a scoreless tie until the 71st minute. That’s when UMass turned the ball over deep in Hartford’s end on a questionable no foul call and were slow getting back on defense. Jeff Tryon then took a nice pass from Javoni Simms and slid it under a diving Nick Ruiz for the only goal of the game.
“(A) missed foul, it’s not like that’s the first time there’s been a missed foul,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “You know, we got to be able to react to that. I don’t think you can blame it on that. The bottom line is that we got stretched and when we get stretched we’re not as good defensively.”
The Minutemen were unable to respond to the goal despite generating quality scoring chances throughout the second half. The loss is the fourth in a row for UMass.
“We created chances and that’s the best thing is create chances and then you got to finish your chances,” Koch said. “So, you got to do one before you can do the other. So we did the first part, we just didn’t do the second part.”
Much of the game was played with tempers flaring, as both teams received yellow cards during the match. Junior defender Matt Keys found himself in the middle of the chippy play, something that he attributes to the growing rivalry between the two sides.
“We’ve played the past three years in the spring and fall, so we’re definitely a bit of a rival,” Keys said. “But, I think the ref was a little bit whistle happy, which kind of makes both teams a little bit irritated, but it was definitely getting physical.”
Aside from the aggressive play, Keys was a major factor in holding Hartford to only a goal, while also making plays on the offensive end as well.
“He’s a big part of our back four,” Koch said. “He’s the one that pulls us all together back there, but he’s also playing with some good players. … You’re going to see more out of him, which will free Matt (Keys) to maybe make a few more runs and help our offense a little bit more.”
In the first half, both teams had good opportunities to score but were unable to strike.
Before Ruiz entered partway through the first half after being evaluated for an injury prior to the game, Minuteman freshman Ryan Buckingham made his first career college start and was the first keeper to come up with a big stop.
In the 17th minute, after the Hawks played a ball over the top of the UMass defense, Buckingham came off his line and won a 50-50 ball to keep the game scoreless.
The best chance of the half for either team came in the 26th minute, when Luke Alvaro received a nice ball through the midfield, but Hartford keeper David MacKinnon stopped his shot to the near post.
Despite dropping their fourth straight game, the Minutemen are showing signs of improvement offensively. Coming off a two-goal game against Vermont, UMass fired off a season-high 15 shots against Hartford, putting five on goal.
“If you compare that game to our earlier games this season, we’re definitely getting more chances, so that’s definitely a bright spot,” Keys said.
The Minutemen will go for their first win of the season on Sunday, when they take on Dartmouth on the road at 2 p.m.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.