Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer approaches ‘make or break’ finale when it takes on Fordham Saturday

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Win and you’re in.

That’s the message Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Fran O’Leary is preaching as the Minutemen make one last push toward this year’s Atlantic 10 tournament.

After fa­lling to George Washington 2-0 last Saturday, UMass (4-12-1, 3-3-1 A-10)

will take on Fordham this weekend as it fights for a berth in next week’s conference tournament.

The matchup against the Rams (6-6-4, 4-2-1 A-10) will be held at Rudd Field, where the Minutemen boast a 3-3-1 record overall and are undefeated in conference play this season.

Saturday isn’t just the last home game of the regular season for UMass – it’s also senior day, as five seniors will be honored before the game.

Senior forward Mark Morris is embracing the opportunity in what will be his final game in Amherst.

“It’s mixed emotions,” Morris said. “It’s going to be an emotional day walking off the field for the last time, but it’s also exciting knowing we hold our own fate.”

UMass is currently tied for sixth in the conference, but holds the seventh seed due to a tiebreaker against Duquesne. The Minutemen must finish in the top eight for a spot in the postseason, but a multitude of different scenarios could find them either headed to Fairfax, Virginia or on the outside looking in.

Because of this uncertainty, UMass does not want to leave anything to chance.

“As a team, we’re just looking to get a win,” Morris said. “We still need a win to qualify for the A-10 tournament and that’s where all our focus is right now.”

That focus will be centered on Fordham, which is currently tied for fourth in the conference and is coming off a 1-1 tie against conference leader Dayton.

Despite having their backs against the wall after losing their past two matchups by a combined score of 6-1, the Minutemen like the position they are in.

“We’re really excited for this game. We’re facing a very good team… It should be a great experience for our guys,” O’Leary said. “All we need is three points for good seeding in the playoffs.”

In order to secure a spot in the conference tournament, it is seniors like Morris who will step onto Rudd for the final time in their careers that need to lead the charge, according to O’Leary.

O’Leary said he has been very impressed with his group of seniors, praising their efforts so far this season.

“This game means a lot to the seniors. They’ve been a good group and have displayed great leadership qualities,” he said. “To get a win on senior day and put us in the top five to end the regular season would be special for them.”

As for the game plan against Rams, O’Leary said nothing changes but his team needs to play like they’ve played their last few games at Rudd, where they have wins over talented conference foes like La Salle and Rhode Island.

“We need the same type of performance we’ve recently had at Rudd (Field),” O’Leary said. “We’ve played really well at home and we need to continue that.”

However, Fordham is coming into this game playing some of its best soccer of the season. The Rams are 4-2-1 in last seven games and currently holds a three-point lead over UMass in the standings.

Although Fordham poses a daunting task for the Minutemen, they’re not changing the way they prepare and are confident they can compete.

“We’re not putting any extra pressure on us… Stay loose, trying to basically go out and prepare like we did for all the other games we had,” Morris said.

A win over Fordham would cap off an unexpected turnaround for UMass, following a 1-9 start to the season.

“It would give us a huge boost of confidence going into the tournament,” Morris said. “Getting a win against a quality opponent would definitely boost our confidence.”

Kickoff is set for noon, with ceremonies honoring the seniors set to take place before the game.

Ryan Donovan can be reached at [email protected]

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