Goncalves, defense secure a 1-1 draw late against Davidson
The Massachusetts men’s soccer team continues to exceed expectations, as they tied Atlantic 10 rival Davidson 1-1 Saturday night at Alumni Stadium.
A late penalty kick goal off the foot of midfielder Ty Goncalves secured the draw for the Minutemen. After a 1-6-1 start to the season, UMass is now 4-1-2 in its last seven games and has reaped the benefits of veteran leadership on its recent run of success.
“Any time you go on the road, you’re going to be under stress,” Minutemen coach Fran O’Leary said. “The back four did very well, in particular Josh Jess, who was outstanding. They managed to keep us in the game, even after the goal. If this was a game last year, we probably would have lost two or three to nil.”
The game was mainly a defensive battle, with just 15 shots between the two teams. The first goal came in the 58th minute, when Wildcat forward Maxi Pragnell scored his seventh goal of the season. Pragnell, a freshman from Kingston, Jamaica, is tied for the conference lead in goals, and averages over 1.2 points per game.
Despite Pragnell’s emergence as a dominant scorer, the Minutemen stifled Davidson’s attack for nearly the entire game. All six of the Wildcats’ corner kicks were futile, as UMass’ back line continued to be sturdy. Goalkeeper Jorge Beccera had two saves on nine shots for UMass, and senior defender Josh Jess continued to head the protection of the box. Coach O’Leary could not say enough about Jess’ play and growth as a leader.
“The seniors have really stepped it up,” O’Leary said. “Josh was just magnificent last night. He just keeps getting better and maturing as a player. He puts his head in and quietly goes about his business. He’s brave, he’s competitive, and he impacts games now.”
Two weeks ago, O’Leary was focused on consistency heading into conference play. Four games later, his team has yet to lose to a conference opponent, and has already set itself up to make a run in the A-10 Tournament. The improvement in play has been evident, but according to O’Leary, it’s behind-the-scenes things that have really brought the team together.
“I think it’s had a lot to do with good practice habits and the guys looking after themselves off the field,” he said. “Guys get their rest, they work for each other, and they back each other up. There is a real trust developing with this team, and I think last night was a very important game for us, to come from behind late on the road.”
The Minutemen are off until Wednesday, when they take on Rhode Island in Kingston, RI. With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Minutemen look to remain consistent and secure a spot in the postseason tournament, seeking their first conference title since 2007.
Henry Brechter can be reached at email@example.com.