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Veteran belonging and the decline of American communities discussed by journalist and author at Amherst College -

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November 15, 2017

UMass men’s soccer ranked in the Coaches Poll for the first time since 2008

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

With two games left in the season, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team has already accomplished more than anyone predicted it would at the beginning of the season.

Entering the year, UMass was picked to finish eighth in the conference. They are currently riding a 10-game unbeaten streak and sit in first place in the Atlantic 10 conference with 16 points. A win Saturday over George Mason would secure the Minutemen home field advantage in the A-10 tournament.

UMass’ (11-2-3, 5-0-1 A-10) unforeseen success is garnering national recognition. After defeating Rhode Island and Dayton last week, two teams that are in contention to host A-10 tournament games, the Minutemen were ranked 25th in the United Soccer Coaches poll.

This is the first time since 2008 that UMass has been ranked in the Coaches Poll, a year that the Minutemen shocked the nation by making it to the final four of the NCAA tournament.

Even with the team’s success, coach Fran O’Leary is not allowing his squad to get ahead of itself.

“The day we start to think we’re good is the day when this fun ride ends,” O’Leary said. “When we start thinking that we’re something special, the party is over. We have to be humble, we have to go in and do what we’ve done all along, which is look to outwork teams, to outthink them and show the resilient spirit that we’ve shown over the last many games.”

UMass has been unbeatable on its home field this year, posting a 9-0-1 record in Amherst. While the play at home has been strong, the Minutemen started the season slow on the road with losses to New Hampshire and Dartmouth, teams that are currently ranked No. 17 and No. 20, respectively.

O’Leary feels the team learned a lot from those losses, as the Dartmouth defeat on Sep. 12 marks the last time UMass walked off the pitch with a loss.

“Our goal all along is to get better and have fun,” O’Leary said. “You tend to get better through adversity if you’re honest with yourself, and our losses on the road to UNH and Dartmouth were probably our two best learning experiences.”

“We made mistakes, we weren’t mentally right, and it impacted our ability to get a result,” he continued. “Where we are now we keep saying, ‘Can we get better?’”

The slow start on the road didn’t last long, as the Minutemen picked up big wins at Saint Louis and Dayton, while also drawing with Central Connecticut State and Saint Joseph’s.

O’Leary’s squad has had a knack for coming from behind this season. During the 10-game unbeaten streak, the Minutemen have come from behind six times to either draw or win the game. The “never quit” attitude is much of the reason UMass is in the position they are in now.

“They’ve got good standards, good habits,” O’Leary said. “If you look at our seniors, they’ve suffered together. Their first year they won only three games, second year they won five games, so they don’t take wins for granted. Every time we’ve got 90 minutes, all we ask is that we use every minute of the 90 to put ourselves in position to get something.”

“If we didn’t have a resilient spirit, our record would be a lot different right now,” O’Leary added.

If the Minutemen can continue the high level of play they have shown throughout the regular season, they will be a team nobody will want to see on the schedule come postseason play.

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

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