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UMass men’s soccer begins A-10 play against Saint Louis

(Katherine Mayo/Collegian)

After a strong start to the first half of the season, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team is now preparing for its Atlantic 10 conference slate.

The Minutemen (5-2-2) are off to the program’s best start since the 2009 season, when it started 5-1-3. UMass’ hot start has put them in great position heading into conference play, as they currently sit in second place within the A-10.

“Very happy with the first half of the season,” said Minutemen coach Fran O’Leary. “To go through nine games with the schedule that we’ve had and to only have two losses—I believe we would have taken that and some at the start of the season.”

In O’Leary’s previous two seasons at the helm of the program, UMass has fared well within the A-10 conference. In his first season, the Minutemen won just five games, but four of those wins came within the conference.

Last season, UMass finished 4-2-2 in conference play.

“I think our focus is always on getting better,” O’Leary said of his team’s success during the second half of the season. “So we would hope to just keep improving. Time will tell. We’ve had a good habit of getting better and getting stronger as the seasons have gone on.”

Despite the first half of the season being a success, O’Leary knows his squad has to continue to work and improve during the remaining A-10 schedule, for the first half to have been worthwhile.

“Very pleased with the effort our players have given us so far,” O’Leary said. “Now, we have to replicate that effort in the conference.”

“We’ve given ourselves a good foundation with a very strong first half of the season,” he continued. “We’ve got to build on that foundation and push on to have a strong season.”

The Minutemen will have their work cut out for them right away, as they open their conference slate by traveling to Missouri to take on the Saint Louis Billikens.

SLU (2-4-1) has gotten off to a sluggish start, losing its first three games to start the campaign. The Billikens have just one home win despite playing six of its seven total games at Hermann Stadium. That single win came on Saturday.

But that win was no ordinary victory. The victory came over a Stanford club that has won the NCAA national championship the previous two seasons and was ranked No. 5 in the country at the time of the matchup.

The 2-0 win over the Cardinals may serve as the turning point SLU needed to get its season going in the right direction.

“It’s probably the hardest place to go in the conference,” O’Leary said. “Saint Louis is a fantastic program—a storied tradition. They’re just coming off a win against Stanford, so we know we will have our hands full.”

In order to top the Billikens, UMass will need to put together one of its top efforts of the season.

“I feel we’ve acquitted ourselves well and I’m confident that if we bring our best game we’ll give them a very tough day,” O’Leary said.

After tinkering with his lineup throughout the non-conference slate, O’Leary continues to say his players will be the ones that dictate minutes by their play on the field. In terms of strategy, he does not envision making any major changes now that conference play has started.

“We won’t switch anything,” he said. “The intensity will be higher so we will need to make sure our focus, our concentration, our discipline is at max levels if we’re going to take some points in the conference.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in St. Louis.

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

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