Men’s soccer unbeaten streak ends against URI
The Massachusetts men’s soccer team’s unbeaten streak ended at five games when Rhode Island defeated UMass on Wednesday night after the Minutemen displayed uncharacteristic lapses on defense.
UMass (4-7-3, 1-1-2 Atlantic 10) suffered two bad defensive breakdowns, and while they were able to tally a goal in the second half, the Rams (5-9-1, 2-3 A-10) held on for the 2-1 win.
UMass coach Fran O’Leary was disappointed with the outcome, considering the Minutemen’s best strength, the defense, did not play up to its usual level.
“We gave away, for us, two soft goals. Anytime you score on the road you hope it’s going to get you at least a point, but what’s been a staple for us of late, good solid defending, we let ourselves down with a couple of silly goals tonight,” O’Leary said.
URI jumped out to an early lead when the team’s leading scorer freshman Stavros Zarokostas scored just six minutes into the match.
“It just broke kindly for their lad, and he just finished it well. It was just a scramble and it broke kindly,” O’Leary said.
The Rams added what proved to be the game winning goal about nine minutes into the second half when junior Ryan Bailey made a long cross into the box to find redshirt sophomore Danny Apajee after a quick counter attack by URI.
UMass goalkeeper Jorge Becerra came diving in and collided with Apajee, but Apajee just barely snuck the ball past Becerra for his second goal of the season.
Bailey tallied both assists on the night for the Rams.
Despite a decent amount of possession in the offensive zone, the Minutemen just could not create enough scoring chances, finishing with seven shots and only two on goal.
The lone bright spot for UMass came in the form of a set piece goal, something the Minutemen view as critical to the team’s offensive success.
Sophomore defender Brandon Merklin took a long throw-in deep in URI territory that ended up in a mass of people in the box. When Rams goalkeeper Nils Leifhelm failed to haul in the throw, UMass senior defender Josh Jess quickly knocked the loose ball into the back of the net.
“We talked about that again before the game. It’s important for us to get some goals off set pieces. It was very well taken by JJ. Unfortunately, we didn’t back it up,” O’Leary said.
The Minutemen did not earn many set piece chances, securing just one corner kick all night compared to five for the Rams.
Despite the disappointing result, UMass showed good effort after going down two goals early in the second half. The Minutemen had a chance to tie the game in the final minute but a shot by Merklin was knocked away at the back line.
“All credit to our guys. We came back, got one back and were unfortunate not to send it to overtime. It’s a testament to the spirit of our guys that they never give up,” O’Leary said.
Both teams featured a very physical style of play, as the Rams picked up three yellow cards while the Minutemen were issued one.
“Just a typical conference game. These games are competitive. I don’t think it was overly physical, just two teams fighting for points in the A-10,” O’Leary said.
The Minutemen return home to face Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday for UMass’ final home game before senior day.
Opening kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Rudd Field.
Jamie Cushman can be reached at email@example.com.