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UMass soccer tops George Washington, move into final A-10 matchups

Stephen Ravazzoli (20) and a George Washington player fight for the ball. Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Stephen Ravazzoli (20) and a George Washington player fight for the ball.
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team picked up a key three points on Saturday afternoon, beating George Washington 1-0 to build some major momentum into their final Atlantic10 matchups.

Junior midfielder Connor O’Dwyer scored the lone goal of the match, nodding home a header in the 19th minute as the Minutemen (6-7-3, 3-1-2 A-10)  held on for a key A-10 conference win on Senior Day.

“It’s a great win,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary, “We played a very good George Washington team, and I think we’ve dominated them. They were the [A-10] champions last year, and we’ve outshot them 18-5, so in my time here, that’s the best performance by a UMass team.”

Senior goalkeeper Jorge Becerra and the UMass back four turned in another clean sheet, their sixth of the season, rounding out their home schedule without conceding a goal to A-10 opponents at Rudd Field.

Becerra was honored pre-game along with fellow seniors Josh Jess and Ty Goncalves before taking the field for their final home match in a Minutemen uniform.

“These three guys have been great,” said O’Leary of his seniors. “In the two years now, they’ve not lost on Rudd in the conference. They’ve played four conference games on Rudd this year and not given up a goal, so hopefully now we can go and get one more result and we’ll be in the conference playoffs.”

UMass and GW (7-5-5, 2-3-2 A-10) entered Saturday’s contest tied for the 8th and final spot in the upcoming A-10 tournament, and a win for either side would prove key with so few matches remaining.

The only goal was scored off of a perfectly played ball from Goncalves on a free kick to the back post, where an unmarked O’Dwyer was free to head home his first goal of the season and put the Minutemen up 1-0.

Controlling a majority of the play, UMass continued to find chances throughout the first half, but couldn’t convert heading into the break with the lead.

As the second half wore on, the Minutemen continued to create chances as the Colonials got more desperate and pushed more men forward. GW moved from a 4-4-2 formation to a more attacking 3-4-3, but any chances UMass found on the counterattack were denied by Colonial goalkeeper Thor Arne Höfs.

“You’re always looking to counter-attack, but occasionally the final ball is a little bit heavy,” said O’Leary. “But overall I think we dominated for large parts. You can’t continue to press like we do for 90 minutes. Sometimes we’ll give up part of the field and they’ll have the ball, and when they put balls in the box Jorge [Becerra] came and took the pressure off of our back four.”

The Minutemen were excellent defensively, and in the end, UMass held on until the final whistle, completing the shutout and picking up a crucial three points in their final home game. The clean sheet marked the Minutemen’s fifth in the last seven matches, as the back line has played at its best at the right time.

“Confidence builds,” says O’Leary, “guys are hardening and understanding what it takes to win college games. We’ve got a group of guys who have a hunger to beat the other team to the ball in the penalty area. Our back four have turned into some really good box defenders, backed up by some really good goalkeeping.”

For the three seniors on this year’s squad, going out with a win on their home turf is as good as it gets.

“It’s fantastic,” said Goncalves, “All the seniors, we talked about last night that we wanted to go out with a win, and that’s the only way you want to go out, especially on your home field. We haven’t lost in conference play on our home field in two years, and that’s great.”

UMass now find themselves in an excellent position ahead of the A-10 tournament, now in sixth place in the race for the tournament’s eight spots.

The Minutemen will head to the Bronx to take on Fordham on Wednesday, before rounding out their regular season schedule in Philadelphia against La Salle on Saturday.

Amin Touri can be reached at atouri@umass.edu.

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