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UMass men’s soccer exacts revenge on Fordham, moves to A-10 championship game

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team is on to the Atlantic 10 title game.

Konrad Gorich’s overtime winner lifted UMass (14-3-3, 6-1-1 A-10) over Fordham (12-5-2, 5-2-1 A-10) to take the Minutemen to the conference championship game on Sunday, their first appearance since 2008.

After 90 minutes of scoreless soccer, it took less than five minutes in overtime to decide a winner, as goalkeeper Bardia Asefnia lofted a free kick to the edge of the penalty area, where freshman Davis Smith flicked the ball on for Gorich, who was racing behind the Rams back line. Gorich latched on to the loose ball, and tapped it past Fordham keeper Rashid Nuhu to send the Minutemen marching on.

“Bardia played a great ball in,” Smith said. “I saw Konrad’s run coming in toward the near post, and I just knew that if I got a little piece of it he was going to get there, and it was a great finish from him.”

UMass earned another clean sheet on Friday, a stark contrast to last week’s matchup with the same Fordham team, a 3-2 home defeat.

“Yeah, we’re absolutely delighted,” said coach Fran O’Leary, “really proud of our guys. To shut out a team like Fordham, that put three past us a week ago, is a big improvement in our collective defending, so a lot of credit to our lads to beat a team that won the conference title two of the last three years, so we’re delighted.”

It was a fairly back-and-forth regulation, with neither time created many clear chances. Smith was forced into an immediate adjustment, as he saw a fairly dubious yellow card just minutes after kickoff. Despite the risk of having his physical forward sent off with a second yellow, O’Leary never considered pulling his man.

“We trust him,” O’Leary said. “He’s a competitive lad, I thought he was a little bit unfortunate to pick up a yellow card, if we were concerned we would’ve taken him out. But I trust the big man, and I thought he had a terrific game.”

The Rams appeared to have a late winner, when Eric Ohlendorf slotted past Asefnia in the 84th minute, but a discussion between the referees led to an offside call on Joergen Oland, and the goal was disallowed.

Once the whistle blew to end regulation, O’Leary was only concerned about his back line holding on long enough to give his attackers a chance to find the winner.

“We’ve got a pretty good track record of scoring goals,” O’Leary said. “Overtime lasts 20 minutes if you don’t concede, and I felt we’d score in the 20 minutes, but we had to make sure we kept our concentration as a collective defense unit. We just wanted to ensure that we kept a clean sheet to buy us enough time to score, and we managed to get a terrific goal.”

Once UMass drew a free kick just behind the halfway line in overtime, it went to its usual set-up—Asefnia lifted the ball into the box, as he always does, in hopes of creating some problems. Smith’s height allowed him to climb highest and head the ball on, and a great run and a great finish from Gorich took care of the rest.

“What it does is push teams back,” O’Leary said of that set piece routine. “We’ve scored a couple goals with that one, it was just a terrifically timed run by Konrad and he made it count.”

The 1-0 victory required some excellent play in the back, and as always, O’Leary attributed the clean sheet to collective defending, as the Minutemen managed to keep Janos and Jannik Loebe, Fordham’s star duo up front, at bay.

“To shut down the Loebe brothers, who are two of the best attacking players in the league—one guy can’t do it alone,” O’Leary said. “It was a collective effort, whoever picked him up first, we got help around him quickly, I thought it was really good defensive effort tonight. That’s been the M.O. of our guys, we’re not perfect, but we try and get better, and we’ve gone from giving up three goals to a terrific Fordham side to shutting them out here tonight.”

“I think the front six did a really good job,” said Gorich, “they helped us out a lot. Of course, those two guys are always tough to defend, and they’ll get their chances, but we have a good back four, a really good goalie, and if you defend the length of the pitch you can get a clean sheet, and that’s what we did today.”

UMass now moves to Sunday’s title game, where they will take on Virginia Commonwealth who defeated Rhode Island 2-0 Friday night.

For now, the Minutemen are just thrilled with the biggest win of their season.

“The whole time we were going after it, from the first whistle,” said Smith, “to get that win was amazing. I think we were just in disbelief—a lot of the seniors couldn’t believe that they started winning two or three games a season and now we’ve won two playoff games in a row. We were just in disbelief.”

“Yeah, it’s a pretty happy place, particularly for the seniors, because they’ve had some tough times here,” O’Leary said. “A couple years ago, we couldn’t find a way to win a game, and they stuck with us. They’ve ha a great attitude, great appetite to get better, we’re absolutely delighted.”

Kickoff on Sunday is set for 12 p.m.

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

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