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UMass men’s soccer zeros in on clinching a spot in A-10 tournament vs. Fordham

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

With two losses in its last 10 matches, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team enters this week in prime position to clinch a spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament when it visits Fordham Wednesday.

Currently sitting at sixth place in the conference standings, the Minutemen (6-7-3, 3-1-2 A-10) need just one victory in A-10 play, either at Fordham or at LaSalle on Saturday, to earn the opportunity to play in the post-season tournament.

For coach Fran O’Leary, what it will take for the team to accomplish that objective is straight-forward—keep performing the way they have.

“We just want to carry on, bring the same energy, the same intensity, the same level of concentration and that is a challenge for us,” O’Leary said Monday. “We [hope we can] replicate the resiliency that we have shown at home and take it with us on the road.”

Although all three of the conference victories for UMass have come at home, the momentum that has been built over the last 10 matches and the nature of the victories behind it make this point in the season unique. The home-road split does not shake the self-assurance for the approaching competition.

“We go [to Fordham] obviously with a lot of confidence on the back of losing just two out of our last 10 games,” O’Leary said. “We’re excited. I think every one of our players is excited about the challenge.”

Wednesday’s road match represents not only a vital conference matchup, but a shot at the team that currently sits in second place in the A-10, two points ahead of the Minutemen in the standings.

“We’re going to have our hands full against a top team,” O’Leary anticipated. “They’re coming off a five-nil win over Duquesne and they just beat St. Louis, so we know that we will have our hands full but we are confident that we can give them a competitive game.”

Both those teams O’Leary mentioned the Rams (7-5-3, 4-1-1 A-10) have conquered. Duquesne and St. Louis also currently hold spots above UMass in the conference, making Wednesday’s game crucial if it has any hopes of reaching the tournament.

Competitive is one word O’Leary has used this week, which gives his team conviction that the target of this week can be hit. Each conference win has been by a 1-0 margin, and the Minutemen are absent of any comfortable or easy match play on the season.

“Every encounter for us has been a close encounter this season in the conference,” he said. “So we’ve been having to fight to hold on to a lead, or as was the case at Davidson, comeback from being down on the road. We have exhibited the ability to do these things and I think that the experiences gained through the course of the season will stand us in good stead at Fordham.”

Heading into a competition that now sees the general uptick in competitiveness come to a head presents its own challenges. With that, the opportunity to test the abilities for the team as a whole in a situation that it has not been in yet this season presents itself.

“This is where you become better as a player, when it’s tough, when it’s difficult, when it’s really, really hard. This is where you grow. Anyone can play when you are three or four goals up against an easy opponent,” O’Leary proclaimed. “This is a great opportunity for each of our players to grow and become better players, because we are really going to be tested in these two games.”

That test, along with the opportunity to move on to the postseason, begins when the Minutemen head to Fordham Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx for a 3:30 p.m. match.

Chris Marino can be reached at cmarino@umass.edu.

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