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Massachusetts men’s soccer team looks to continue strong start versus Dartmouth

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

In his first two seasons as head coach of the Massachusetts men’s soccer team, Fran O’Leary’s side followed a similar pattern of starting the season slow, then finishing strong. The slow start has handicapped the Minutemen in the past, as they dug themselves in too deep a hole

to overcome year after year.

The focus going into this season was to break that pattern, and get out to a hot start in their non-conference games.

UMass (3-1-1) has done that thus far. With big wins over St. Francis and Boston University, O’Leary’s squad has started the season on the right foot. This start can be attributed to the work the team did during an offseason in which O’Leary and his staff changed the way they prepare for the season.

“I think it’s the commitment from the players,” O’Leary said when asked what about his team changed from last season. “We looked at everything. The summer conditioning programs, the players looked at their commitment levels, their nutrition, rest. All the credit goes to our players. They put in the work this offseason.”

The work has been noticed on the field. The Minutemen committed themselves to being in better shape, and have found it easier to compete later in games.

“Nobody has outdone us with fitness,” O’Leary said. “Our work ethic has been very good. If we’re going to be successful, we have to play with a high tempo, and in order to play with a high tempo, you have to have good fitness and endurance levels. Our exertion levels during games are a credit to our players and the work they did over the summer.”

UMass will look to carry their recent success into New Hampshire Tuesday night, as it takes on the Dartmouth Big Green.

While Dartmouth (1-2-0) haven’t gotten off to the start they had hoped for, it is about as good a team as the Minutemen will face all season. Last season, the Big Green won their third consecutive Ivy League championship, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament where they fell to Syracuse. O’Leary understands the challenges of defeating the Big Green.

“It will be a tight game,” O’Leary said. “They’re a very well-coached team. They’re a top team. I think in the RPI (Rating Performance Index) last year they were a top 25 team. This is one of, if not the, top team we will play this year, so we will really have our hands full.”

When the Minutemen are clicking, they can play with anybody. In the draw against Columbia, you would hardly have been able to tell that Columbia was the team playing in the NCAA tournament a season ago, rather than UMass.

But when the Minutemen are off, things can get ugly very quickly. They saw this during their last trip to New Hampshire, when UNH was able to take a 1-0 game and turn it into a three-goal thumping during the final 10 minutes of action.

If the Minutemen are going to come away with a victory, they know they have to play one of their best games of the season for a full 90 minutes. If not, a team as talented as Dartmouth could make it a long ride back to Amherst.

“If we’re on, we’re a difficult team to beat,” O’Leary said. “If we’re a yard off or a little bit slack, we could be turned over bad. Our guys have done a terrific job at bringing their finest effort to the field, game in and game out. If we do that, we’ll give Dartmouth a strong game. If we’re a yard off, we’re in for a very long night.”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at tjohnston@umass.edu and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.

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