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The UMass men’s soccer team is lifted by the strong play by Josh Jess at both ends of the field in 1-0 victory of VCU

Konrad Gorich (4) and Josh Jess (6) jump into the air to head the ball. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Konrad Gorich (4) and Josh Jess (6) jump into the air to head the ball.
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The old cliché goes, if you don’t like the weather in New England just wait a minute. That same cliché was on full display on Saturday as the Massachusetts men’s soccer team grinded out a 1-0 victory over Virginia Commonwealth.

Cold raw air and steady down pours gave way to sunlight casting a rainbow just past the north end of Rudd Field, and that was just in the first half. But according to senior defender Josh Jess of the Minutemen (5-7-3, 2-1-2 Atlantic 10), it wasn’t a problem for UMass at all.

“(VCU) can play a bit more,” Jess said. “They’ve got some special players and I think the rain slowed them down a bit.”

The rain did leave the field wet and slick, giving way to some sloppy play throughout the game as players often struggled to keep their footing. However, through the messy flow of the game, Jess emerged as one of the most impactful players on the field against the Rams (5-7-3, 3-2-1 A-10).

Jess’ biggest impact came in the final minute of the first overtime period as he scored the golden goal with a header off a corner kick to give UMass another three points in conference play.

“We said at half that the goal we needed was going to come off a set piece,” Jess said. “When I saw the ball heading into the box I just put everything I had left into it and just went for it.”

Jess had been as effective and involved in set pieces on Saturday as he has been all season, with all three of his goals coming from set pieces. Saturday’s goal also ties him for the team lead with senior teammate and midfielder Ty Goncalves, who happened to deliver the corner kick to Jess.

While the winning goal highlights the stat sheet, what may have been his most important role was the work on the defensive back line, which continues to be the backbone for the Minutemen this season.

The back four led by Jess included sophomore Konrad Gorich, redshirt sophomore Casey Hamill, and sophomore Brandon Merklin.

VCU came into Saturday’s game as the top scoring team in the conference with 22 goals in 14 games. The Rams finished with only two shots on goal, both saved by UMass keeper Jorge Becerra.

Jess’ leadership and the strong communication between him and his teammates on the back line kept one of the most potent offenses in the A-10 off the board, drawing the Rams off sides seven times – an area in which VCU has struggled with this season, tying for the conference lead with 48 calls.

“We are 10 times better as a team when we do the little things,” Jess said. “That’s what it takes at this level. It’s not just skill, it’s all the little moments throughout the game that make a difference.”

Jess’ strong play on the back end and his golden goal lift the Minutemen following a disappointing loss to URI. This match can hopefully put UMass back on track, with only two games left before the conference tournament.

“All day we were just buzzing,” Jess said. “Even at the team breakfast we were just talking about the game. We were just mentally ready to go.”

Nicholas Souza can be reached njsouza@umass.edu and followed @nicksouza27.

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