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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Josh Schwartz paces UMass to first win of season

Through nine games this season, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team only had three goals to its name. Two of them belonged to Josh Schwartz.

On Saturday, he helped the Minutemen nearly double their efforts for the season in just one game, scoring two goals and two assists in UMass’ first win of the season, a 5-2 blowout victory over Siena at Rudd Field.

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

The junior from Annapolis, Md., was the team’s leading scorer from a season ago, putting a lot of pressure and expectations on the 5-foot, 6-inch forward’s shoulders to lead by example.

“He’s under so much pressure being the captain of ‘Little Nation’ and so he’s got a lot on his shoulders,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “Being the leading goal scorer, he’s got a lot on his shoulders. And he’s probably his own worst enemy. You know, when he doesn’t play well he’s really hard on himself.”

The start to the 2013 season was not how Schwartz pictured it, both individually and as a team, so it comes as no surprise that Saturday’s win removed a big burden from the team,

“It was a big relief to get our first win today,” Schwartz said. “We just played well and finished our chances, finally. Just a good game for us.”

It was Schwartz, one of the team’s offensive captains, who led the way.

He opened the team’s scoring in the 16th minute by playing in a beautiful, curling ball off a corner that found Mark Morris’ foot for the game’s opening goal. Five minutes later, he found himself in space and let loose a shot from 25 yards out that was placed perfectly in the upper left hand corner for a 2-0 lead.

He wasn’t done yet.

In the second half, he once again found himself in the right place at the right time and was left all alone to clean up the rebound off a Matt Keys shot that pushed the Minutemen ahead 3-1.

Then, with the game all but put away, he showed off his crafty passing skills as he slid a pass between two defenders to Connor DeVivo, who finished the play off with the team’s fifth goal of the afternoon.

“I think that we all just came together today,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know if it’s a release of pressure. I mean, there’s never really any pressure. We’re a team. The pressure is on all of us to score. But, I think we really did some good things today, so it’s a good game for everyone.”

But, even when Schwartz doesn’t have the ball on his feet, he manages to create chances for his teammates. As the team’s most dangerous offensive weapon, other players such as Morris have benefitted from the amount of attention that he’s received by opposing defenders.

“It definitely does (take pressure off me),” Morris said. “The defenders don’t all focus on me. It creates open spaces for everyone else on the field and it’s great to have him up there.”

Even with the team’s slow offensive start to the season, Schwartz has maintained his scoring pace from last year. In 18 games last year, he led the team in goals (five) and points (12) and is looking to surpass that total midway through this season.

With his two goal, two assist performance against the Saints, Schwartz has four goals and two assists for 10 points in 10 games. His performance against Siena is the type of effort that Koch knows he can expect out of his leading scorer for the rest of the year.

“Today was a really good day for him,” Koch said. “And when he’s got his head up, he’s a hell of a player.”

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Strohecker.

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