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UMass men’s soccer tops George Mason 4-1, move to brink of conference title

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team is on the brink.

After a 4-1 win over George Mason (5-8-2, 0-6-1 Atlantic 10), UMass (12-2-3, 6-0-1 A-10) is one win away from sealing its first regular season conference title since 2008.

The Minutemen sit atop the conference standings with 19 points on the year, closely trailed by Virginia Commonwealth.

After Saturday’s dominating win over the Patriots—which extended the unbeaten run to 11 consecutive games—UMass controls its own destiny heading into the season finale on Wednesday, after locking up home-field advantage in the first round of the A-10 tournament.

“Yeah, absolutely delighted with the performance and the result,” said coach Fran O’Leary. “We really wanted to host a game in the A-10 tournament, and obviously this result secures it, everyone’s very happy right now. One of our points of emphasis this year was to improve on the road, and now we’ve gone 3-0-1 in four conference games scoring twelve goals on the road, so our guys can feel really proud of their efforts on the road.”

It’s been a real turn around for the Minutemen when it comes to road form, as back-to-back away losses to Dartmouth and New Hampshire in September was followed by a scorching hot streak, both on and away from Rudd Field

UMass got off the mark early on Saturday, as freshman Davis Smith continued his breakout rookie campaign, heading home his ninth goal of the season in the 23rd minute.

Senior Alex DeSantis doubled the lead thirteen minutes later, and senior Matthew Mooney joined in on the scoring blitz just after halftime to put the Minutemen up 3-0 in the 47th minute.

Freshman Mike Rita rounded out the offense in the 71st minute, pouncing on a rebound to give UMass a commanding 4-0 lead and seal a playoff home game at Rudd Field.

“Everyone kept hitting the target,” O’Leary said. “I think we had 14 shots in the game and 10 of them were on target. The guys looked bright before the game, our coaches commented on the finishing in warm-ups, and it just carried over into the game.”

A brief defensive lapse saw the Minutemen concede a penalty kick in the 86th minute, and Dirks Henning converted for his 9th goal of the season—joint-most for the lead in the conference with Smith—to make it 4-1. It was the lone blemish on an otherwise stellar defensive showing.

”Yeah, it was a fantastic collective performance,” said O’Leary, “but our back four and Bardia [Asefnia] were excellent again. They’ve got one of the best strikers in the league and we had our hands full dealing with him, but it was a group effort, we put on a strong defensive effort.”

After taking it to George Mason in Fairfax, UMass finds itself in an unfamiliar position, in the driver’s seat for the A-10 conference title. The Minutemen have one conference match remaining, a Wednesday showdown with Fordham, and the task is simple—a win clinches the regular season title, which has steered clear of Amherst for nearly a decade, while a draw or a loss leaves the title in doubt, with VCU lurking.

In any case, the Minutemen have wildly exceeded expectations this season—having been picked to finish eighth in the A-10 Preseason Poll, UMass cannot finish lower than second, as VCU is the only team still within striking distance.

“Realistically no [we didn’t expect this],” O’Leary said. “But what we did say was ‘we will get better.’ The mentality of our group is to get better, so we knew we would improve—we didn’t fathom the degree of improvement, but now we’re on a nice roll, and we’ll try and obviously prepare for a very good Fordham side and hopefully finish the season off with a win on Wednesday at home.”

Kickoff on Wednesday is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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

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