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January 3, 2018

Overtime goal lifts Massachusetts’ soccer over VCU

Konrad Gorich heads the ball during Saturday's game against VCU at Rudd Field. (Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Konrad Gorich heads the ball during Saturday’s game against VCU at Rudd Field. (Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Just three days after a disappointing 2-1 loss to Rhode Island, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team had to rebound against the highest scoring team in the Atlantic 10 in Virginia Commonwealth at home.

After failing to convert on any of their seven corner kicks in regulation, defenseman Josh Jess sent a header into the back of the net off a corner from midfielder Ty Goncalves to give the Massachusetts men’s soccer team (5-7-3, 3-1-2 A-10) a 1-0 overtime victory over VCU (5-7-3, 2-2-1 A-10) at Rudd Field.

“We came close on a few occasions before and I think we were pressing for a goal. It was a terrific delivery,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said. “(Jess) just went and attacked the ball. He’s very good at meeting the ball; it hung in the air forever and several players could have got it, but he went and attacked it. It was a terrific goal and a terrific way to end the game.”

With just 40 seconds remaining in the first overtime period, Goncalves sent a corner kick into a crowded box where Jess scored above the crown to send the ball past VCU goalkeeper Pierre Gardan. The goal was Jess’ third of the season, tying him for the team lead with Goncalves. All of Jess’s goals have come from set pieces.

O’Leary believes that scoring on a set piece involves both a strong delivery and players who are hungry enough to meet the ball.

“Set pieces are the focus point for us,” Minutemen defender Konrad Gorich said. “We focus on it because that’s the way we score goals. It’s important to use these set pieces and I think we did well with them.”

In what O’Leary called an “Irish Day”, the weather could not seem to make up its mind. The rain poured down during the first half, and the second half was cold and windy, leaving the field a slippery mess. The Rams have multiple skilled players who can use speed and finesse to make plays, but with poor field conditions they struggled to electrify.

“(VCU) has some special players,” Jess said. “Maybe the rain helped slow them down.”

It was the defense that excelled for UMass. The Minutemen gave up nine shots on the day, but only two of them had to be saved by goalkeeper Jorge Becerra. This marks the teams fifth shutout of the season. Defenders Casey Hamill and Brandon Merklin shut down the flanking area of the field that has been a strength for VCU this season.

The Rams were sloppy offensively, getting caught offside seven times, five in the second half and overtime combined.

“It’s a terrific win. They’re in my eyes, and in the eyes of many, one of the top two teams in our conference,” O’Leary said. “We came today and competed with them. Another clean sheet again. Our guys were very courageous, they work for each other, they’re a fun team to coach and we got a reward. We had a couple of chances before that but I think overall we are happy to win today.”

The game became physical towards the end, with many fouls committed by both teams. VCU had nine fouls on the day to UMass’ 11, while Gorich received a yellow card with just over two minutes remaining in regulation after getting tangled up with a defender.

“This is a fun group to coach and I’m very happy for them,” O’Leary said. “I would have been proud whether we won 1-0 or lost 1-0 because they gave a fantastic effort today. Thankfully, because we scored, I’m both proud of them and pleased for them.”

The Minutemen’s next game is scheduled for Saturday against George Washington at Rudd Field, starting at noon.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at tjohnston@umass.edu. 

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