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December 11, 2017

Minutemen play to 2-2 draw against Saint Joseph’s

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts soccer team ran its unbeaten streak to seven games on Wednesday night, salvaging a 2-2 draw and a conference point against Saint Joseph’s.

It took a late equalizer from junior Jack Fulton, but the Minutemen (8-2-3, 2-0-1 Atlantic 10) held the Hawks (3-6-4, 1-1-1 A-10) to make it a full month without a loss.

“I’m very pleased with our resilience tonight,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary. “To come from behind twice on the road and come away with a point is a credit to the resilience of our guys. We would have liked to have won, but when you’re six minutes away from defeat, and you can come back, it’s a great credit to our guys.”

After an hour of scoreless play, St. Joe’s got on the board first, when redshirt freshman Ben Cochran headed home to put the hosts up 1-0 in the 61st minute.

The lead lasted all of two minutes, and it was some friendly fire that leveled the game at 1-1, after a Hawk own goal in the 63rd.

St. Joe’s didn’t take long to regain the lead, as senior Isaac Agyapong buried a rebound off the post in the 74th minute to put the Hawks back in front.

The second-half shootout continued late, and the drama continued to build as the Minutemen continued pushing for an equalizer. Freshman Davis Smith’s header in the 79th minute produced a fine save, as solid chances came to nothing.

The breakthrough finally came for UMass just six minutes from full time. Goalkeeper Bardia Asefnia lofted the ball into the penalty area from a free kick near midfield, and Fulton got there first to knot the game at two-all and send it to overtime.

“The key on set pieces is to get the first contact,” O’Leary said. “The defenders and attackers are fighting for the first contact. Jack got there, did brilliantly, did a great job to get the first contact and help save us a point tonight.”

Two ten-minute overtime periods couldn’t produce a winner, and the two sides split the points in a draw.

“I just feel there’s a great camaraderie in the team and a never-say-die attitude,” O’Leary said. “We’ve played two conference games on the road, we came from behind against Saint Louis to win, and we’ve come from behind twice tonight against St. Joe’s to get a very valuable point.”

It was a relatively subpar performance for the Minutemen, who have been in excellent form lately, but it was enough to grab an important point on the road.

“We’re developing a habit,” O’Leary said. “We’re difficult to beat. We didn’t play our best tonight, but we were resilient. That’s important, when you’re not on top form, that you can pull a point from a team like St. Joe’s.”

Seven points from three games leaves UMass in third in the A-10 standings, behind still-perfect Rhode Island and Virginia Commonwealth. It’s an excellent start for the Minutemen, who haven’t tasted defeat since a trip to Dartmouth on Sep. 12.

“So far, so good,” O’Leary said. “Seven points out of nine, two results being road games, it’s a terrific haul. There’s a long way to go with those seven points to get us into the playoffs, and that’s where we’d like to go. We’ll keep chipping away, and now we have to recover, and we’ll have our hands full with La Salle come Saturday.”

A tough performance leaves plenty of room for improvement for O’Leary and his side.

“I think we’re looking to improve all areas,” O’Leary said. “We don’t like giving up goals, and we gave up two goals tonight, we’re usually a better defensive unit than that. So we’ll dust ourselves off, take a look at the tape, and we’ll try and improve. Looking back on tonight, I think we maybe could have had a little bit more composure in our passing. We’ll take that, and we’ll work on it in the coming days.”

UMass continues conference play this weekend, hosting La Salle on Saturday, before facing A-10 leader URI the following Wednesday. Both games will take place at Rudd Field in Amherst, where the Minutemen are still unbeaten with a stellar 7-0-1 home record.

Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Amin Touri can be reached at atouri@umass.edu.

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