UMass men’s soccer set for pair of weekend games against New England opponents Harvard and New Hampshire

By Ross Gienieczko

(Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff)
(Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

After Friday’s 2-1 overtime win against Fairfield, it’s not hard for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team to feel good about themselves.

“(The win) was nice,” UMass interim coach Devin O’Neill said.”There was some pressure lifted.”

The comeback victory showcased how much potential the Minutemen have on their roster. UMass played team-first soccer and showed tenacity and perseverance after overcoming a late 1-0 deficit against the Stags last Friday.

This weekend, the Minutemen (1-5) look to build off their first win of the season when they host Harvard Friday afternoon and New Hampshire on Sunday.

Forward Josh Schwartz has been the leader for UMass offensive this season,, his 14 shots are double the anyone else on the team, and his two goals include the overtime winner against Fairfield. Midfielder Luke Pavone and forward Mark Morris have also been notable contributors on the attack as well.

Defensively, the Minutemen are anchored by the heart and soul of its team, senior Matt Keys. He’s started every game for the Minutemen since he arrived as a freshman, and despite his designation as a defender, will play all over the field. Late in the game against the Stags, with his team trailing 1-0, Keys moved up to forward and headed in the game-tying goal.

In net, sophomore Ryan Buckingham has started the last five games after sitting out the season opener, and has given the Minutemen solid, sure-handed play in goal.

The Crimson  (4-3) enters the contest on a four game winning streak, and they seem to be hitting their stride early in the season. They’ve scored 13 goals during the winning streak, which is led by a balanced offensive attack. Ten different players have combined to score 15 goals on the season for Harvard.

“We’re very impressed with what we’ve seen from them. They play very hard. … They’re big and physical and they’ve been quite prolific,” O’Neill said.

The road has not been pleasant to the Crimson, whose three losses have all been away from Harvard’s historic Soldiers Field.

The Wildcats (3-4), enter Sunday’s contest on a downward trend. They’ve lost two of their last three games and are also winless on the road this season.

Both teams however were victorious when they played UMass a season ago, as O’Neill pointed out the similarities between the two teams.

“They’re both very physical teams,” O’Neill said. “They’re going to challenge us in the defending area.”

The weekend is full of opportunity for the Minutemen. They have an opportunity to build their first winning streak of the season and set the tone for Atlantic 10 conference play, which starts one week from Sunday.

To beat either team – something that would qualify a significant upset at this point in the season – UMass needs to be better at capitalizing on their scoring chances. In the first half of Friday’s game against the Stags, the Minutemen squandered several opportunities that would have changed the tone of the game. O’Neill said the team is not reading too much into those missed chances, and instead needs to work on getting better as an offense overall.

“Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.” O’Neill said. “We just want to improve the quality of scoring chances we get.”

Fridays contest against Harvard will take place at Rudd Field and is scheduled for 3:00 p.m., while Sundays’ match against UNH will start at 2 p.m.

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