Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer looks to continue A-10 success against St. Bonaventure

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Sam Anderson/Daily Collegian

Sam Anderson/Daily Collegian

All season long, the Massachusetts soccer team has talked about the start of Atlantic 10 conference play.

It was the only thing that could be said after some of the losses UMass suffered in the first half of the season. Statistically, a 5-1 loss to Central Connecticut and 4-0 defeat against Albany were the worst setbacks of the season.

But the worst losses are not always the ones with the ugliest scores. After a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Vermont, the Minutemen needed a 45-minute team meeting after the game.

But through it all, UMass coaches and players alike talked about developing as a team with the goal of being competitive in the A-10.

In past years, that promise has not always held true, but so far in the 2015 season, the Minutemen (2-10-1) are right on target with their goal, starting 1-1-1 in conference play.

After a 2-0 loss to Saint Josephs in the conference opener, UMass rebounded with a thrilling 3-2 win against Rhode Island, fueled by a Mark Morris hat trick. In their next game, the Minutemen took Saint Louis to double overtime and earned a draw against the Billikens.

And after starting the season 1-9, UMass finally appears to be trending in the right direction.

“I’m very proud of the players,” Minutemen coach Fran O’Leary said. “They’ve really hung in there and it’s been a terrific few days.”

It hasn’t always been pretty this season for UMass, but O’Leary said the entire year has been a learning process.

“Good teams need to make mistakes and need experience,” O’Leary said. “Now, we’re making better decisions and we’re playing tighter.”

Through it all, the Minutemen have been led by senior captain Will Ellis, who’s played a crucial role in the midfield this season.

“Will Ellis has taken to the captain’s role very well,” O’Leary said. “He’s not overly vocal, but he leads by example.”

He’ll try to lead UMass to another good result this weekend, when the Minutemen travel to St. Bonaventure on Saturday at 7 p.m.

If UMass has struggled this year, then the Bonnies have been nothing short of futile. At 1-12-1, St. Bonaventure has only scored four goals all season, making the Minutemen’s offensive issues seem negligible in comparison.

But to O’Leary, Saturday night’s game represents a difficult road challenge.

“We’ve shown we can be competitive at home. The next step is to do it on the road,” O’Leary said. “(The Bonnies) will be difficult to break down. Both teams will be looking for points.”

St. Bonaventure is led by midfielder Kieran Toland, who is the only player to score more than one goal on the team. Goaltender Bobby Diaz also leads the A-10 with 77 saves.

In terms of conference standings, a win would allow UMass to remain at least tied for fifth in the A-10, and possibly move up even higher depending on how the rest of the league shakes out.

After their Saturday night trip to Olean, New York, the Minutemen will return to Amherst for a mid-week game against La Salle. They’ll follow that with road trips to Dayton and George Washington, before ending the season at home against Fordham.

Saturday night’s game against the Bonnies will begin at 7 p.m. in Olean, New York.

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

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