Controlling possession was key in UMass’ 2-0 victory over Brown.

By Philip Sanzo

Henry Steinkamp outruns his opponent as he heads toward the goal. Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)
Henry Steinkamp outruns his opponent as he heads toward the goal. (Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team displayed a different level of intensity in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Brown.

UMass has been offensively challenged in the majority of matches it has played this season. However, against the Bears (3-2), they were in control of the ball and able to manage the tempo of the game.

According to Minutemen coach Fran O’Leary, UMass (1-5-1) has been improving with each game they have played especially in set plays.

“The last couple of games against Albany and against BU, set pieces cost us in those games and set pieces won us the game today,” O’Leary said. “We had two set plays, two goals. The guys did terrific, we dominated the penalty area, so we beat a very, very good Brown team.”

A corner kick followed by two headers set up midfielder Henry Steinkamp for the score in the 23rd minute of the first half. Six minutes later forward Alex DeSantis registered his second goal of the season following a free kick.

“One of our main focuses has been set pieces,” DeSantis said. “We lost against Albany, 30 seconds left on a set piece, so we really focused on set pieces and it worked out for us.”

Controlling the pace of the game allowed the Minutemen to stay competitive for a full 90 minutes, which is something they’ve struggled to do so far this season.

In the six games leading up to Saturday’s match, the Minutemen have allowed just three combined goals in the first half, but 11 in the second. By possessing the ball more in this game, it took some pressure off the defense and allowed them to change the narrative.

“It’s definitely a lot easier on the defense and on myself when we’re able to keep the ball, possess the ball,” goalkeeper Jorge Becerra said. “You know to move the ball around to get the other team tired a little bit and we’re able to take a break defensively. So I think we did a good job of doing that today.”

Becerra registered six saves against the Bears.

Given UMass’ history in the second half of games this season, keeping Brown at bay was a very important task.

“That was a big part of our discussions at half time,” O’Leary said. “Being able to manage the game and see the game out. See 90 minutes, have a shutout, manage the game and I think we did that today.”

UMass’ improvement was evident in each game that they played, but the score line never reflected it.  This shutout victory against a Brown team with three wins serves as a culmination of their efforts.

O’Leary credited his team’s mentality for earning them their first win.

“I think it is just having a group of guys with a terrific attitude who want to get better everyday,” O’Leary said. “We’ve had setbacks and they’ve never dropped their heads. They’re a pleasure to coach and they work for each other, they get on well, they all enjoy each other. The tough schedule obviously hardens you, but at the end of the day it’s the mentality of this group. We’ll see if it leads us to a few more wins this season.”

UMass continues its non-conference schedule Wednesday at Vermont. The Catamounts are 7-1 this season.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.