UMass men’s soccer shut out for sixth time in 2015 by Vermont Friday

By Ross Gienieczko

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

For Vermont, Friday was a picture perfect road victory.

There was an early goal in the second half that deflated the Massachusetts soccer team, as well as the insurance marker that effectively ended the game with over 20 minutes to play.

The bench was emptied as 25 different players saw playing time for the Catamounts (4-3-1). A late goal increased the margin to 3-0. There was laughter, celebration and most importantly a third win in a row. Not even a four-hour bus trip back to Burlington could dampen the mood.

For the Minutemen, there was a much darker postgame reality, darker than Rudd Field was at 7 p.m. after a nearly hour-long meeting following the loss.

“Games keep escaping us,” UMass senior captain Will Ellis said. “We keep going down and it’s hard to come back when you go down. We’re just struggling right now a bit.”

The 3-0 loss dropped UMass to 1-8 in 2015. Vermont was unquestionably a stronger side and the Minutemen matched and perhaps outplayed the Catamounts in the first half, but there was no consolation Friday evening – not for a team that has been shut out six times in nine games.

Instead, there was a 45-minute closed-door team meeting immediately following the final handshakes.

What was said in this meeting remains unknown as nobody outside the locker room could possibly know if the mood was angry, reflective, constructive or a mix of all the above. Sometimes, it can re-energize a team, but more often than not, long team meetings after a loss are a fatal symptom.

“You’re going to have setbacks. You’re going to have things that don’t go your way,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said. “We’ve got to do a better job than we did today of handling the setback.”

The game itself was not quite as bad as the aftermath would make it seem – at least in the first half. Before the intermission, the Minutemen played with purpose and a clear objective. The Catamounts had their offensive chances but for the most part seemed okay with sitting back and letting UMass possess the ball.

And that’s exactly what the Minutemen did. Lenoir Sery was a force at striker and nobody from Vermont seemed able to knock him off the ball once he decided to hold play up. The back four on defense was effective in corralling the ball and reversing the field and the midfielders competed hard on loose balls in the middle of the pitch.

With just minutes remaining in the first half in a scoreless game, UMass almost had something to show for it. Ellis sent a cross into the box that Alex DeSantis headed toward the top right corner of the net. Vermont goalkeeper Greg Walton couldn’t stop it on his first try but got another chance when the ball ricocheted off the post and came back straight across the goal line, where he swiped it out of danger.

In the meantime, almost everyone at Rudd Field thought the Minutemen had scored. The crowd cheered and the Catamounts’ coaching staff wondered aloud why the clock hadn’t stopped.

But reality came rushing back once Walton got to his feet and punted the ball to the other half of the field. It was the closest UMass came to scoring all afternoon.

“Whoever got the first goal today was going to get a lot of energy,” O’Leary said. “Unfortunately, they got it. We were the width of the crossbar away.”

The second half was anything like the first as Vermont came out and scored just 33 seconds after the opening whistle. The Catamounts’ Shane Haley finished a crisp sequence of passing with a blast into an open net from just outside the six-yard box.

Vermont forward Brian Wright then scored in the 68th minute of the game on a clinical finish and the goal doubled as a knockout punch.

“For the first time in a while, we did not respond well,” O’Leary said. “Collectively, we’re disappointed today, and we’ve got to shake it off and come back on Sunday.”

There is some good news for the Minutemen: they won’t have to sit on Friday’s loss for long. A Sunday matchup against Brown will give UMass a chance to sort out some of the issues that plagued it in the second half, as well as move on mentally before the start of Atlantic 10 conference play next weekend. The Minutemen need to do both to try and piece together a playoff-worthy second half to the season.

Sunday’s game is at Stevenson Field in Providence, Rhode Island. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m.

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