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UMass men’s soccer moves to 8-0-1 at home in win over La Salle

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team continued its excellent play in Amherst, defeating La Salle 2-0 on Saturday. The win moves the Minutemen to a stellar 8-0-1 at Rudd Field.

With just under three minutes before halftime, neither team had established much offensively. UMass had just one shot to the Explorers’ three.

That was before forward Samuel Asamoah found the ball in the box off a Brandon Merklin header from a long throw-in, burying the ball into the top right corner to give the Minutemen the lead.

“We were under a bit of pressure,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said of his team’s offense in the first half. “Sam scored one on a set piece. He was just quickest to react in the box, he did a great job to come first in the box.”

Playing without three of their typical starters in the back, the Minutemen defense held tough throughout, forcing goalkeeper Bardia Asefnia to make just one save during the game.

Along with the defense, the UMass midfielders played a strong game. Their play allowed the Minutemen to control possession and play at their own pace.

“We start defending from the front and attacking from the back,” O’Leary said. “You’ve got to win the battle to control possession. We won a lot of first and second balls, particularly in the second half.

“You need the ball to be able to do anything,” he continued. “Our midfield won a lot today. Particularly Connor O’Dwyer, who won a lot in the air. That allowed us to get controlled possession.”

The UMass offense didn’t strike again until the 84th minute, when forward Davis Smith lofted a pass to a streaking Jack Fulton. With La Salle in attack mode trying to tie the game late, its defense was up, leaving just one defender back to run with Fulton.

This forced Explorer goalkeeper

to leave the box and try to make a play on the ball before Fulton got it. But the pass was spot on, and the junior was able to chip the ball over Tobin from 30 yards out, where it soared in the air before bouncing into the net to secure the Minutemen victory.

The goal was Fulton’s fourth in the last six games.

“Davis got a good little touch,” Fulton said. “I saw the through ball on so he played me through. I saw the keeper off his line so I gave it a little chip. He had been off his line all game. I gave it a go and it went in.”

The multi-goal game is UMass’ sixth straight. Fulton feels that the offense is a full team effort, not just the forwards.

“It actually has to do with the defensive end,” Fulton said. “We put so much pressure on teams. When we push up so high it makes the attack so much easier, we have a lot more free time up there because we’re already high up the field.”

With the defense producing another shutout and the offense continuing to click, the Minutemen continue to be a tough out for any opponent they face.

“A lot,” Asamoah said when asked how much confidence the team has. “Especially in not allowing anyone to come in and disrespect us on our home field.  It means a lot to us. We’re hoping to keep this going into playoffs.”

UMass will look to continue its home winning streak Wednesday, as they take on Rhode Island at Rudd Field at 3 p.m.

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

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