UMass men’s soccer heads down to Carolina for a weekend pair of games

By Ross Gienieczko

(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)
(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

Going into Sunday’s game against Fordham, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team was on a bit of a cold streak. The Minutemen had gone 0-7-1 in their previous eight games, and in terms of real time, it had been nearly five weeks since their last victory.

But behind a strong effort from freshman Taylor Culp in net and just its third multi-goal performance of the season offensively, UMass cruised to a 2-0 win.

This weekend, the Minutemen will try to shorten the gap between victories, and hope to keep the good momentum flowing as they travel down south for a pair of games against UNC-Ashville and Davidson.

The trip represents the latest leg in a tough travel schedule for UMass (2-12-1, 1-4-1 Atlantic-10). It comes in the midst of a three week span of road games that’s included trips to St. Louis, New York, and Rhode Island. So far, the Minutemen have gone 1-2 on the five-game trip.

The most recent game of the road trip, the win against Fordham, did more than just lift morale after a lengthy stretch of losing.

“It put a smile on everyone’s face,” interim coach Devin O’Neill said. “But what it really did was keep our tournament hopes alive.”

The matchup against the Wildcats on Sunday is another crucial game in regards to UMass’ A-10 tournament push. With their conference record at 1-4-1, the Minutemen need to win both of its remaining games and hope they gets some help in order to qualify for postseason play. Only the top eight teams in the conference qualify, as UMass is on the outside looking in, currently sitting in 12th place in the overall standings.

Davidson (7-2-4, 1-2-1 A-10) will be equally as motivated for a victory, as it currently sits ninth in the conference, one spot out of postseason play. Despite strong performances against top teams in the country after beating No. 10 Virginia 2-1 and tying No. 20 St. Louis 0-0.

In the first game of the weekend – Thursday against UNC Ashville – the Minutemen will have to fill a gigantic void. Senior captain Matt Keys will miss the first game of his UMass career after he received a red card in the win against Fordham, resulting in an automatic one game suspension.

“(His absence) is huge,” O’Neill said. “Wherever we play him, he controls that area of the field. But we did catch a break in that his absence comes in the non-conference game.”

The Bulldogs (1-8-3, 0-4-2 Big South) can relate to how the Minutemen feel about the 2014 season. With just one win—coming way back in August against Brevard—Ashville has struggled to put the ball in the net, averaging well under one goal per game (.67). The game counts towards UMass’ overall record and players will surely be as competitive as ever, but for all intents and purposes it is a final tune-up for the conference matchup against Davidson.

The last time the Minutemen won, they proceeded to lose four games in a row. This weekend, O’Neill would like to see his team continue their strong play, and carry over the form they showed against the Rams.

“I thought we looked quite dangerous going forward (against Fordham), and our defensive play and goalkeeping were very strong.”

If UMass can repeat their performances in all three areas of the game, they stand a good chance of exiting the weekend with points and keeping its playoff hopes alive.

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