UMass men’s soccer eliminated from A-10 playoffs

By Anthony Chiusano

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Playing the same Saint Louis team that defeated it four days earlier in its regular season finale, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team once again fell short against the Billikens, 2-0, in the first round of the Atlantic 10 playoffs on Thursday.

The loss marked the end of UMass’ season, which turned out to be a roller coaster ride.

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

The Minutemen (4-14-1, 3-6 A-10), after starting the season 0-8-1, looked as if they were in prime position to make the conference playoffs with two games remaining on the schedule. However, after losing to Dayton and Saint Louis to conclude regular season play, UMass was suddenly left relying on outside help to qualify for the playoffs.

The Minutemen got the help it needed and backed into the eighth and final seed, where they were lined up to play the No. 21 Billikens (13-4-2, 7-0-2 A-10), the conference’s No. 1 seed.

Following a 2-1 loss to Saint Louis on Sunday, UMass coach Sam Koch said that the team headed into Thursday’s game with a different game plan.

“We tried to do a couple of things a little bit differently with the idea that one thing they were really good at (Sunday) was that they caught us ball watching,” Koch said. “We really focused on making sure we were communicating with ourselves well and that we were going to stay with our men.”

The Minutemen kept pace with the Billikens early on and the first half ended in a scoreless tie. Both defenses played solid, as UMass was only mustered one shot on goal while Saint Louis recorded two shots on goal.

“I think the guys played hard. We moved the ball on them, we had a couple of big chances and we made it difficult for them,” Koch said. “For them to not be able to get a goal on us, with supposedly all those great players, it says a lot about our guys.”

However, the Billikens quickly established the lead in the second half. Alex Sweetin set up a free kick from 20 yards out that defenseman Julian Gieseke headed past Minutemen goalkeeper Nick Ruiz for the first goal of the game in the 47th minute.

Two minutes later, Saint Louis added to their lead with a header by Robert Kristo, assisted by Sweetin and David Graydon.

Koch said that a halftime strategy change may have led to allowing the two goals.

“In the second half, we tried to press them a little higher and it bit back,” Koch said. “That allowed them to get the scoring chances that they did. Looking back on it, maybe it would have been better to continue what we were doing, which was dropping back and not pressing them as high.”

Despite allowing two goals, Ruiz had a solid game overall in the net for UMass, recording seven saves in the loss.

“He’s done a good job for a freshman and you have to give him a lot of credit,” Koch said. “Overall, he’s had a very good year.”

Facing a two-goal deficit, UMass constantly attempted to attack Saint Louis’s defense in the second half, but to no avail. In total, Billikens goalkeeper Nick Shackelford only had to face two shots on goal from the Minutemen as the senior picked up his eighth shutout victory of the season.

“We’ve got to give them credit,” Koch said. “They scored on their two opportunities and we just couldn’t get one. They’re not ranked (No. 21) in the country for no reason.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.