Inconsistent second half dooms Minutemen
The Massachusetts men’s soccer team lost 2-0 to Fairfield at Rudd Field on Wednesday, losing its sixth game in a row amid a flurry of missed opportunities.
UMass (0-6-1) fired off 19 shots in the contest, including 11 in the first half, controlling the pace of play from the start and creating a number of point-blank opportunities. But the game switched momentum in the 49th minute when Stags forward Reco McLaren won a one-on-one battle off a Minuteman turnover in the box and beat goalkeeper Nick Ruiz for his first goal of the season.
Then it was McLaren’s cross in the 79th minute, which effectively put the game away, as he gathered a loose ball and found Martin Lindgren for the score.
“The game changed when they scored,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “When you’re 0-5, 0-6, those kinds of things take the wind out of our sails.”
Wednesday marked the sixth game in which the Minutemen failed to score, a growing frustration among coaches and players alike.
“Part of it is finishing. We just didn’t finish our chances,” Koch said. “When you’re 0-6 and you haven’t scored too many goals, that goal gets smaller and smaller and smaller and you get tighter and tighter and tighter in those situations. There’s a lot of pressure on these guys.”
Despite minimal output, UMass produced its fair share of chances. Matt Bolduc made multiple lengthy runs down the sideline, creating promising scoring chances. Josh Schwartz, the team’s leading scorer from a season ago, missed an open opportunity to score in the 82nd minute on a shot that sailed over the crossbar.
“I’m not really sure to be honest,” junior Matt Keys said when asked about the inability to finish offensive opportunities.
Added Keys: “We just got to find a way to find the back of the net because getting a lot of opportunities and still not producing goals is just frustrating.”
Bolduc used speed to quicken the tempo on the outside, sending two crosses into the Stags’ (2-1-1) box within the first 20 minutes. His effort didn’t go unnoticed.
“He had a great game,” Koch said. “He got down their side pretty much at will and created a lot of great scoring chances for us. He had a very good game. (I’m) very pleased with his play.”
The Minutemen outshot the Stags 11-7 in the first half and almost scored just two minutes into the game. Defenseman Josh Jess fired a shot, which just cleared over the crossbar. Jess followed up his effort with another scoring chance on a diving header in the 17th minute.
“We just couldn’t buy a goal,” Koch said before lightening the mood. “I don’t know if there’s some kind of magnetic field we don’t know about or some kind of zulu witch doctor behind (the net). I really don’t know. Something’s not right.”
Keys also acknowledged that the team remained upbeat.
“No actually, the morale was pretty high after the first half which is good,” he said. “I think when they scored it just kind of all toppled over from the fact in our minds that we’ve had more chances and now we’re down 1-0.”
Koch still believes scoring will come as his team grows.
“Inexperience and the pressure (on the team) now, it’s there,” he said, “I think once we get a couple goals, I think things will get a lot better.”
Bolduc, a true freshman, isn’t showing signs of panic either.
“It’s not too frustrating because right now I think we’re developing as a team, we’re pretty young,” he said. “It’s gonna come.”
UMass paid tribute to a few people with close ties to the team on Wednesday, with each player wearing a black Adidas armband around their left arm. The team was paying tribute to late softball coach Elaine Sortino, who died in August after a long battle with cancer, Luke Pavone’s father, who died from cancer over the summer and Cody Sitton’s brother, who died in Afghanistan.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.