Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Defensive standoff favors UMass men’s soccer in 1-0 overtime victory Saturday

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

After a dreadful start to the 2015 season, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team has recovered to earn a spot in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.

The Minutemen clinched the No. 5 seed after a 1-0 overtime victory in Saturday’s regular season finale against Fordham at Rudd Field behind a 97th minute goal from freshman Casey Hamill.

Defense was the main theme for Saturday’s game, as was to be expected from two teams who have won games this year largely in part due to the play of their goalkeepers and backlines.

An intensely played game throughout, offense was scarce for much of Saturday’s match, as both sides played tough to the ball and consistently smothered offensive chances by their opponent. UMass had its best chance of the first half in the ninth minute when freshman Samuel Asomoah rang a shot off the left post, but after that, defense ruled the pitch.

Goalies were not subjected to very much action, as there were only nine shots on goal between the two teams, with six of them coming in the first half. Strong play from the back defensive lines of both the Rams and the Minutemen were exceptional in stopping the few offensive chances that surfaced over the game.

Junior defender Josh Jess played all 97 minutes Saturday and acknowledged the importance of staying focused and alert down the stretch on defense when fatigue can take over. UMass held Fordham to no shots in the overtime period.

“Usually when we get tired, we tend to spread out and make mistakes,” Jess said. “The big thing was communicating back and forth throughout the game and staying tight. The tighter we are to the middle, the better we can win balls, which was huge today going down the stretch.”

Much of the game was played near midfield, as there were constant struggles for the ball and back-and-forth possession changes all throughout the match. When the ball did get down near the net, it was almost always defense that had the upper hand, as each team traded denied shot attempts before it approached the goalkeeper or picked-off cross attempts.

With this defensive stalemate, regulation ended with a scoreless result setting the stage for sudden death and the increased importance of ball control. This proved crucial, as Hamill finally found space down the left sideline and capitalized on a Fordham miscue to seal the win and a tournament berth.

“(I) couldn’t feel any better after that,” Hamill said after his season-saving score. “When I tracked the ball down, I just planned on passing it…but I saw the gap, found some space and one thing led to another.”

The hard-fought defensive contest certainly creates confidence for the Minutemen heading into its first round tournament rematch with No. 4 seed Fordham.

“I thought it was a very good game,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said. “Fordham is a very good team, so to get a win at home gives us a lot of confidence heading to the tournament. I thought it was a deserved win for us today.”

O’Leary added that he continued to stress the importance of maintaining a consistent attack against the Rams’ tough defense in order to force mistakes and eventually break through.

“I told them to keep doing the same things. Keep working the keeper and carry on, because I thought we were very good in regulation,” he said. “We just wanted to keep getting better all year. It’s a great credit to this group of guys because they stuck together when a lot of teams would fracture.”

Henry Brechter can be reached at [email protected]

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