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Thursday’s NCAA tournament rematch between UMass men’s soccer and Colgate will be a battle of adjustments

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team will play an NCAA tournament game on Thursday for the first time since 2008—it’ll be an unfamiliar circumstance, but a familiar setting and a familiar foe.

UMass (15-3-3, 6-1-1 Atlantic 10) will return to Rudd Field to host Colgate (10-10-1, 4-1-1 Patriot League) for the second time this season, after the Minutemen took home a 2-1 win back on Sept. 16.

Thursday’s rematch has infinitely more weight than that non-conference tilt in the early part of the season, and it will come down to two things—which team makes better adjustments from the initial meeting and which team has improved the most in the intervening time.

“I think both teams will have gotten better, it’ll be a very interesting tie,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary. “We talk about getting better and we want to go out and prove to ourselves that our rate of improvement will be sufficient to get a result in this game. We know we will have to put on a better performance than we did against them a couple of months ago because they definitely have improved.”

The Minutemen have certainly been in better form since that game; the win over Colgate in September was the start of an 11-match unbeaten run, and they’re 12-2-1 overall since that win.

The Raiders, meanwhile, are 7-6-1 since that loss, which came during a brutal five-game losing streak in late September. Colgate, however, has been much better as of late, winning its last five en route to a Patriot League tournament championship.

The Raiders are a different team than the one UMass saw early in the fall, one with new tactics and playoff experience.

“They’re going back to back in the tournament, so they’re a very difficult opponent,” O’Leary said. “We beat them at home early in the season but they’ve changed their lineup, they’ve changed their formation since then.”
As far as O’Leary’s concerned, it’s a new season, and a new game.

“We’re both new teams. I always feel that, come late in the season, you’ve put in 10 or 15 appearances, you’re really a year older,” O’Leary said. “So Davis [Smith] is really a sophomore, when he first played he was athletically a freshman, now he’s really a sophomore. I don’t think we can take a lot from that first game, it’s an NCAA playoff game, they have more experience in it recently than we have, but we didn’t have any experience going into the final four of the A-10, we’d never done that before, and we acquitted ourselves quite well.”

The Minutemen have been excellent since taking a 1-0 loss to Dartmouth in September, on both ends of the pitch. An extremely impressive tournament run, in which they shut down three of the best offenses in the conference, has sparked a wave of confidence that they hope to ride into their first NCAA tournament appearance in nearly a decade.

“Right now we’re peaking nicely,” O’Leary said. “I think we’ve lost one of our last 14, and to go into games against these three teams [Fordham, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth] and concede only one goal, we’ve proven that we can score goals over the course of the season, and what we’ve done lately is tighten considerably. You look at our team last year and we were very tight defensively, and maybe we didn’t score enough goals, and if you look at the earlier part of the season we were scoring freely but maybe giving away some cheap goals. Now over the course of these three games we’ve really tightened, and that’s helped us win the conference.”

UMass has been the better team since the first meeting, but O’Leary says it’ll come down to “who’s better on the day,” because in a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen.

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

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