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May 7, 2016

UMass men’s soccer looks to stay alive in Atlantic 10 playoff race

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

As the New England weather gets colder, the Atlantic 10 playoff race for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team continues to heat up as a victory against George Washington last Sunday kept the team’s chances alive.

After struggling to start the season, UMass (3-11-1, 2-3 A-10) has showed constant signs of improvment, posting a 3-3 record in its past six games. The ninth-place Minutemen will look to position themselves inside the top eight teams that qualify for the conference tournament.

With three games remaining in the regular season, UMass will travel to face St. Bonaventure on Sunday. The Bonnies (8-6-2, 2-2-1 A-10) are in sixth place in the conference and are coming off of a win against Dayton on Sunday.

“We’re just making sure we understand the importance of this game,” UMass coach Sam Koch said. “The focus on St. Bonaventure is more of making sure we do our jobs. I give them a ton of credit. They’re playing well, they’re well coached and it’s going to be a hard game.”

Sunday’s game is a matchup that Koch said he has kept his eye on since the beginning of the season.

“This is a game, to be honest, that I looked on the schedule in the beginning and I said that this is the game that is going to be the key game,” he said. “Because it’s away, it’s against a team that’s deceptively good and we’re playing on a tough field.”

Although a loss on Sunday would not automatically eliminate the Minutemen from playoff contention, Koch said that he believes the game against the Bonnies is a “must-win game.”

“We win this game, then going into the weekend, we control our own destiny,” he said. “We don’t get a result in this game, then we have to rely on other people. It’s too tight in the back.”

The team said that it recognizes the importance of maintaining their concentration on Sunday’s game.

“We’re really just looking forward to St. Bonaventure,” junior Josh Schwartz said. “We have the playoffs in the back of our heads, so we’re just keeping focused.”

Freshman goalkeeper Nick Ruiz added that the team is “more focused right now” than at any other point in the season.

“At the beginning of the year, just nothing was clicking and we weren’t getting anything done, but it’s all about what you do now, not what you did before,” Ruiz said. “Right now, we’re just coming into (the game against St. Bonaventure) like it’s a whole new season. These three games are huge for us.”

Koch said that Sunday’s game may very well be won by an unexpected player. While he said that he expects Schwartz and junior Matt Keys to continue to play well offensively and Matt Pease and Josh Jess to continue their defensive success in front of Ruiz in goal, he said that he would be “almost surprised if it was one of the regular guys” who ultimately ends up being the deciding factor in Sunday’s outcome.

“It’s going to be that kind of game,” Koch said, “and we’re going to need that performance in order to win, I think.”

Sunday’s game is scheduled for a noon kickoff.

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

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