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UMass men’s soccer loses heartbreaker to Albany

Sixty-five minutes into the men’s soccer game on Tuesday afternoon at Rudd Field, it looked like the University of Massachusetts may secure its first victory, leading 1-0 in a highly competitive affair.

Twenty-five minutes later, it was heartbreak once again.

The Minutemen (0-5-1) struggled defensively down the stretch and made crucial mental mistakes, surrendering two late goals to Albany and falling 2-1. The game-winner, scored by Albany sophomore Carlos Clarke, came with just 30 seconds left to play.

“It’s disappointing, but we’ll just dust ourselves off and we’ll go again,” said coach Fran O’Leary postgame. “I thought we played very well today, playing the American East Conference preseason favorites. They’re chock full of experienced international players. We’ve given as good as we got throughout the course of the game, we failed to defend our box, and it cost us the game.”

In the first half, UMass controlled the game. Though Albany was winning the possession battle, the Minutemen were quick to react on offensive chances, while stifling Great Dane (2-2-1) opportunities.

Fifteen minutes in, midfielder and captain Ty Goncalves fired a shot from 30 yards out. The goalie leaped, tipping it over his head and into the back of the net. UMass took the lead on what would be its only registered shot on goal of the game.

Albany had its chances in the first half, but the Minutemen defense stood strong. Two saves by goalkeeper Jorge Becerra and solid place kick defense kept the Great Danes off the board. The Minutemen had arguably played their best soccer of the season in the first half.

The second half was a different story. After a few near misses at the start of the final 45 minutes, Albany got on the board when junior forward Afonso Pinheiro scored on a breakaway. It was Pinheiro’s third goal in five games, and marked a large momentum shift in the game.

UMass had two chances in the 69th and 70th minute, but could not convert. A free-kick from junior forward Alex Desantis sailed over the net, as did a sliding shot from freshman forward Andrew Barrowman moments later. Barrowman’s shot was the last real chance for the Minutemen to score in the game.

Tough defense followed, and each team exchanged several possessions before Albany was awarded its fifth corner kick in the 89th diminute. It appeared UMass had it defended well, but the referees called a handball, and a re-kick was ordered.

The Great Danes finally converted on their sixth corner of the game. After the initial kick, the ball was deflected out to the right side of the box. Albany junior defender Moosah Khanat crossed it for Carlos Clark, who finished the job. The ball beat Becerra to his left, and after one last UMass push downfield, the game was over.

It was a brutal loss for O’Leary’s club, who are still looking for their first victory of 2016. Their effort Tuesday was the best to this point, but there is much work to be done.

“We defended well on set pieces except for the last one, and that was the one that counted,” said O’Leary. “There’s no need to change things up, I thought the performance was very good. Overall, from the goalkeeper to the forwards, I thought it was a very brave, courageous performance against a very talented team.”

“For the most part, we defended vigorously,” he added. “It’s a funny game if you can defend well for 89 minutes, but if you have a wee lapse, these things happen.”

Henry Brechter can be reached at hbrechter@umass.edu.

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