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January 13, 2017

Matt Keys continues to shine for UMass men’s soccer

Following yet another shutout loss on Sept. 25 to Syracuse, the Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Sam Koch decided to make a change.

Robert Rigo/ Collegian

Before the Minutemen’s next game against Siena on Sept. 28, Koch moved junior Matt Keys to forward despite spending the first nine games as a starting defenseman.

“We needed to do something,” Koch said.  “You have to keep trying different things to keep [the team] focused, to keep them fighting.”

Upon hearing the news, Keys said that he was caught off guard by the decision, but was willing to make the change if Koch thought that it would benefit the team.

“I thought [Koch] was crazy to be honest,” Keys said. “I’ve never played up top before.”

The move to the offensive side of the ball immediately paid dividends. The Minutemen picked up their first victory of the season against the Saints in a game which the offense finally broke through with five goals, one of which Keys assisted on.

Since the position change, UMass has played significantly better on both sides of the earning a 3-3 record following the loss at Syracuse. Keys has consistently been a part of the Minutemen’s success, as seen most recently in his performance on Sunday against George Washington, in UMass’s 2-1 win.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the 85th minute, the Minutemen controlled the ball near the Colonials’ net.  As the ball popped out to an open Keys from around 20 yards out, he set up for a strike that beat diving George Washington goalkeeper Luke Farrell for what proved to be the game winning score.

“Time was winding down and I saw the ball go into the box, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get a head on it first,” Keys said. “So I kind of stayed back outside the 18 and I told Josh [Schwartz], ‘If they head it out, leave it.’”

As planned, the ball was headed back out in Keys’ direction.

“It was in the air and I just shot it,” he said. “I just put it on frame, [to] maybe get a rebound.  Lucky enough, it went in.”

The score marked Key’s third goal and eighth point of the season through fifteen games.  All three goals that he has scored have come since moving up top.

“Ever since we put him up top, he’s just given us a whole new dimension,” Koch said. “I think he’s very hard for other teams to handle. They put a lot of people on him, they have to hold him, they have to really bump him to get him off his game, and I think he bounces off of it pretty well.”

Keys’ contributions have not gone overlooked by his teammates. Freshman goalkeeper Nick Ruiz said that although Keys is missed as a defender in the back, his 6-foot, 4-inch presence is a major advantage on the offensive side when trying to win headers.

“We don’t have enough height up top,” Ruiz said, “so he helps be a target, especially when we’re winning balls up there.”

With three games remaining on the regular season schedule, UMass’ hopes at reaching the Atlantic 10 playoffs are still alive thanks in large part to Keys now being a piece in a revived offensive attack.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at achiusano@umass.edu and can be followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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