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Minutemen continue slate of regional matchups against Dartmouth on Tuesday

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team will open conference play at the end of the month, but before the games have really started counting, the Minutemen have been chasing bragging rights against some regional rivals.

After a 3-0 loss to No. 24 New Hampshire (4-0-1) last Tuesday and a 1-0 win over Boston University (0-5-0) on Saturday, UMass (3-1-1) continues a slate of local opponents with a trip to Dartmouth (1-2-0) on Tuesday night.

Following the Dartmouth match, the Minutemen will host Colgate (3-3-0), before facing Central Connecticut (2-3-0) and Hartford (1-3-1) to make it five New England opponents in six games.

Of the fall’s non-conference matchups, the regional contests mean the most.

“You like to be competitive,” says UMass coach Fran O’Leary. “These are fine teams we’re playing against. I think now over the course of time we’ve gone from not being competitive in these games to being competitive, and now the next step—we’re starting to win some of these games. It’s all credit to the guys, but it’s always nice to string results together against our New England neighbors.”

Their record may not reflect it, but the Dartmouth Big Green are one of the finest sides UMass will see all season. They won their third consecutive Ivy League title in 2016—the first team in more than three decades to three-peat in the Ivies—before making a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Dartmouth’s first loss of the season was a hard-fought 1-0 loss to No. 13 Michigan State, a team that is likely to spend a good bit of the season nationally ranked.

The Minutemen will truly be tested on Tuesday, but it wasn’t long ago that they simply expected to be throttled by teams like UNH and Dartmouth. In recent years, more and more recruiting battles have been won by UMass, and O’Leary gives much of the credit to the university itself.

“I think there’s a couple of things happening,” said O’Leary. “UMass has exploded academically the last few years, absolutely exploded. So it now has a national and probably international reputation. That’s huge for our recruiting. We’re getting emails from all over the world, all the way out to the West Coast expressing interest. That’s thanks in large part to the academic explosion here.”

A combination of academic strength and recent program success has transformed the Minutemen into real players in the recruiting world. Now some of the top players in the state, like Belchertown’s Alex DeSantis and Amherst’s own Davis Smith, along with quality international players like Germany’s Konrad Gorich and England’s Connor O’Dwyer, are flocking to Amherst to play, learn and grow.

“Now, we’re able to string some results together,” O’Leary says. “We’ll always lose some to other teams, but the combination of a world-class education with a team on the rise will put us in the mix for many good players in this area.”

For the first time in a long time, UMass isn’t a pushover on the New England collegiate soccer scene, and it will look to showcase that growth against the Big Green on Tuesday night.

Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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

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