Luke Pavone jumpstarts UMass men’s soccer’s comeback effort in win over Fairfield

By Ross Gienieczko

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Several players stood out in the Massachusetts men’s soccer team’s dramatic 2-1 overtime win against Fairfield on Friday.

Senior captain Matt Keys was a monster on defense and scored the game tying goal on a header in the 87th minute. Fellow senior Josh Schwartz scored the game winner in the fifth minute of overtime.

But the real x-factor for the Minutemen was sophomore midfielder Luke Pavone. In addition to making several defensive stops on each wing, Pavone assisted on both goals and injected the team with energy throughout the game. He played with emotion, and even mixed it up after the whistle with several Fairfield players early in the game

“I’m not surprised that he was the spark plug today,” interim coach Devin O’Neill said. “He’s just that type of player. He loves to play the game and he just gets after it.”

Pavone, to his credit, was quick to deflect praise.

“It was a hard fought game, the whole team fought real hard,” he said. “Once we went down one, we kept our heads up and kept fighting. It was a group effort.”

A group effort it was, but anyone could see that Pavone played a big role in the UMass win. He played well throughout the game, but in the 87th minute, with the Minutemen down 1-0, he still had nothing to show for it.

Then, he found himself with the ball – along with time and space – on the right wing just outside the Fairfield 18-yard box. His cross was high-arching but accurate, and when it came down, Keys was able head it over the Fairfield goalkeeper and into the net to tie the game.

“It fell out to me at a good spot, and I had the option to either shoot or cross, and I just had a feeling we had our big man Matt Keys on the back stick,” Pavone said. “So I just tossed one across and he was able to get a great header on it.”

It was a perfect ball, but Pavone wasn’t finished. Five minutes into overtime, with a long pass coming toward him, he made another play that resulted in the ball finding the back of the Fairfield net. The header he played was only a slight deflection, but it changed the angle and speed of the ball and left it perfectly situated for Schwartz, who calmly fired home the game winner.

“I knew the defender didn’t see me since I was out wide and I knew that Schwartz was behind me because he said, ‘flick on,’” Pavone said. “I knew I could just cut him off and give it the slightest little touch.”

The assists were Pavone’s second and third of the season. He’s been one of the team’s best playmakers this season, assisting on three of UMass’ four goals so far.

“He’s just so dynamic,” O’Neill said. “He can turn a defense, get it in behind them. He’s just really dynamic.”

Friday also marked the first home game for the Minutemen since the death of longtime coach Sam Koch. Each team honored him by wearing black arm bands, and a short ceremony was followed by a moment of silence before the game. As a sophomore, Pavone was recruited by Koch and got to play one season under him. Friday, Pavone felt like the team was playing for Koch.

“Coach Koch was a great guy,” Pavone said. “We had a great year with him last year. He was not just a coach to me, but a friend as well. I feel like we did a good job of playing for him today. It was tough, but I’m glad we could do it for him.”

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.