Physical play fuels conference rivalry between UMass and URI

By Patrick Strohecker

There was no love lost between the Massachusetts men’s soccer team and Rhode Island on Sunday afternoon at Rudd Field.

Araz Havan/ Collegian

With both UMass and the Rams still searching for their first Atlantic 10 wins of the season, it was no surprise that the physical play was at a high in the contest. And it didn’t take long for the official to put his foot down on the physical play.

The two teams combined for 37 penalty minutes and three yellow cards in the Minutemen’s 3-1 victory over the Rams.

“I don’t think he was one way,” UMass coach Sam Koch said of the referee. “I think what you want more than anything is someone who is consistent. If he misses a couple calls, he misses a couple calls to one side; he misses a couple calls for the other side. Overall that’s the way he was and I thought he did a pretty solid job. He wasn’t an issue.”

Koch went on to add that the rivalry between the two schools added to the physicality.

“It’s an Atlantic 10 game. It was a must win for them as well as a real important win for us, so you knew they were going to come out and do whatever they needed to win the game,” Koch said. “That’s just the way our games are. They’re physical battles.”

In the opening 45 minutes, the two sides combined for 19 fouls, including two yellow cards, one to each side. Junior Matt Keys was whistled for his third foul of the match in the 22nd minute, resulting in the game’s first booking. Then, in the 44th minute, the Rams’ Jon Cloutier hauled down Peter Alvarenga for a yellow card.

The chippy play benefitted UMass, as following the yellow card to Cloutier, Keys scored off the free kick to give the Minutemen a 2-1 lead right before halftime.

Nothing changed between the two sides as the second half began. Both teams combined for 18 more fouls in the final 45 minutes and the Minutemen’s Jay Marchand also picked up a yellow card in the 75th minute.

The physical play is something that UMass has gotten accustomed to throughout the season, and is a style of play that it is comfortable playing.

“We like it,” Keys said of the physical play. “We knew that it was going to be a battle. They’re kind of like our rivals, so we saw it coming, we handled them well, we played a good game. It was great.”

The challenge for a team playing in such a physical match is having to adjust to the style of play, as well as the way the game is officiated.

“Really, it’s just kind of a [mental] thing,” Cody Sitton said. “You build off a referee. You’re never going to change a referee’s mind, so if he’s calling it lightly, you got to be careful of your tackles. If he’s letting you play, like today, it’s going to be a physical game.”

Sitton was one of the best players in not letting the style of play affect him. He led the way for the Minutemen with two goals, including their first goal to tie the game at 1-1 and then an insurance marker to make it a 3-1 final score.

Entering Sunday’s game, UMass matches averaged 20.5 penalties per game and only two cards per game. The Minutemen clearly exceeded both averages with Sunday’s totals.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Strohecker.