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Seniors power UMass men’s soccer to victory on Senior Day

Men's soccer defeated George Washington 1-0 off a goal by Connor O'Dwyer in the first half at Rudd field on Saturday afternoon. Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Men’s soccer defeated George Washington 1-0 off a goal by Connor O’Dwyer in the first half at Rudd field on Saturday afternoon. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Three seniors in the final regular season game of their career on Rudd Field powered the Massachusetts men’s soccer team to a 1-0 victory over George Washington on senior day Saturday afternoon.

The strong defense that led to UMass’ (6-7-3, 3-1-2 Atlantic 10) improved play as of late showed up again against George Washington (7-5-5, 2-3-2 A-10), led by seniors goalkeeper Jorge Becerra and defender Josh Jess.

Becerra earned his sixth clean sheet of the season for the Minutemen and although he tallied just one save against the Colonials it was a difficult diving stop that kept the score tied early in the first half.

UMass coach Fran O’Leary pointed to that save as a critical moment in the game.

“Today we’ve dominated, but they had one real chance and Jorge made a big save, and that’s what you need your goalkeeper to do. Otherwise they’ve got a goal, they get energy and then we’re on the back foot and we’re deflated,” O’Leary said.

Jess heaped praise on Becerra after the game for the goalkeeper’s recent run, earning back-to-back shutouts and five in the past seven games.

“Unreal. The kid game after game makes a big time save. It’s not just the fact it’s keeping us in the game, those plays give energy, and that’s what people feed off, so it’s big time for us,” Jess said.

Jess’ solid play in the middle of the back line also helped keep George Washington off the scoreboard, limiting the Colonials to just five shots.

Becerra considers Jess and sophomore defender  to be two keys to the Minutemen earning shutouts and the team’s playoff prospects.

“They go up for the ball, they get nailed almost every time, and no one really sees, but they’re the toughest guys on the field and for us to make a run in this playoffs, we need them to be strong and I think they’ve hardened a lot since the first game against Syracuse,” Becerra said.

Senior midfielder and captain Ty Goncalves also had a major contribution to the win, delivering a beautiful cross on a free kick to set up the lone goal of the game, a header from midfielder Connor O’Dwyer.

For a team with a lot of young players, the leadership and experience that the three seniors provide UMass has been extremely important.

“The leadership is great,” O’Leary said. “You start the season in a difficult manner, you rely on your senior leaders to keep the team together. They’ve done that and we’re getting the rewards now.”

Later O’Leary added, “you’re not going anywhere without good senior leadership. You can be the most talented team in the world and if you don’t have good senior leadership, you’re just paddling upstream all the time.”

Oftentimes players can struggle with refocusing on the game after the pregame senior day ceremony, but both Becerra and Jess thought the seniors successfully kept their focus on the game.

“It’s a little tough because you are kind of getting a little emotional and you’re kind of prepared for a game, but then again you have all of these other distractions going around, so you just have to control it mentally, be mentally tough, and I think all of our guys did that,” Becerra said.

Saturday’s victory was the cherry on the top for the senior trio Sunday, bringing the group’s record at Rudd Field against A-10 opponents in the past two years to 6-0-2.

The win was Becerra, Goncalves and Jess’ last chance to show their worth to their home fans, and they delivered once again.

“You can be called a captain, but you’ve got to back it up on the field, you’ve got to back it up in the manner you carry yourself off the field, and they’ve developed as a group and the team holds them in the highest regard,” O’Leary said.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at jrcushman@umass.edu.

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