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November 16, 2017

Stingy UMass defense earns shutout, keys victory over BU

(Katherine Mayo / Daily Collegian)

A year ago, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team fielded one of the strongest defensive units in the conference, and with several members of the UMass back line returning, that hasn’t changed.

The Minutemen were lights out defensively on Saturday, shutting out and shutting down Boston University in a 1-0 win. Center backs Konrad Gorich and Brandon Merklin, flanked by left and right backs Casey Hamill and Kevin Boino, were excellent in holding the Terriers to only four shots all afternoon.

“The back four and the team are really defined by clean sheets,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary. “We gave up some cheap goals midweek against UNH, and it was a big point of emphasis that we get back here and tighten up. Bardia made a big save to maintain [the shutout], and the back four, Kevin, Konrad, Brandon and Casey were superb today.”

“I think it was a good performance,” Gorich said. “You always have to play well to keep a clean sheet, they had some good shots but we have a great goalie behind us and he made a great save and had our backs, and that’s why we kept a clean sheet.”

Boino is the only newcomer to the UMass back four, as Gorich, Merklin and Hamill were all a major part of the conference’s best defense last season, and the continuity and comfort these players have with each other is extremely important.

“[That continuity] is huge,” Merklin said. “We all have chemistry, we all listen to each other and back each other up, so we can keep clean sheets.”

Juniors Gorich and Merklin have an especially important relationship as the team’s center backs, and their communication keeps the whole operation in sync. The Minutemen defend as a unit, and shouts and commands could be heard from all over the field.

“We communicate for 90 minutes a game,” Gorich said. “Everyone’s talking to each other, who steps up, who steps back. That’s the key to the defense, the communication is the key to a clean sheet.”

“We’re always talking,” Merklin said, “so we always know what’s going on. If [Gorich] steps, I cover, and if I step, he covers, so we’re really good with that.”

And when it comes to his back line, O’Leary has nothing but confidence moving forward, as Saturday’s performance solidified.

“We were number one in the A-10 last season in goals against,” O’Leary said. “These are good players—they play as a unit, they back each other up, you always feel secure with those guys around. We’re really, really happy with our back four right now.”

O’Leary and his men will make their second trip in as many weeks to the Granite State on Tuesday, as UMass visits Dartmouth in a regional affair in Hanover. The Minutemen then return to Rudd Field to host Colgate the following Saturday.

Amin Touri can be reached at atouri@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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