UMass men’s soccer coach Fran O’Leary brings in an influx of quality, new talent in 2016

By Nick Souza

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Massachusetts men’s soccer coach Fran O’Leary began his tenure with UMass in 2015, and he was taking over a program that had experienced a fair amount of futility in recent years.

In the three years prior to O’Leary’s arrival, the Minutemen were a combined 12-38-4 (7-17-2 Atlantic 10). With his work cut out for him, the Dublin native set forth with a vision to rebuild this program the way he has for several other programs in his 25 years as a collegiate coach.

Recruitment has been a major strength of O’Leary throughout his career, and his stint with Major League Soccer club Toronto FC, as Director of Recruitment in the two years prior to taking the job at UMass, serves as evidence.

His knack for acquiring the right talent for his squad has been on display this year with nine new players coming into the program either via transfer or as a freshman. The newcomers join a roster with nine returning starters from last year.

During the preseason, O’Leary was optimistic about how the team was meshing together with the influx of new players.

“The returning players have done a great job of helping the new guys become acclimated,” O’Leary said. “They should provide some fresh energy and competition for the team this season.”

O’Leary expected the competition to bring out the most in both the new players as well as the returners, but when asked in the preseason about whether he expected any of the newcomers were standing out or challenging to overtake the returning starters, he didn’t want to get ahead of himself.

“They’ll have to fight to oust the current players,” O’Leary said. “They’ve all done very well up to this point in the preseason, but I’ll be able to better answer that question in a couple of weeks.”

Young Talent

 While Coach O’Leary hesitated to name any standouts early in the preseason, as time went on it was clear that some of the new arrivals were ready to carve out a spot on the starting line sooner rather than later.

Of the nine new additions to the Minutemen, four are freshmen – three of which have started logging serious minutes for UMass. Forward Andrew Barrowman, defender Ryan Saul, and midfielder Christian Labeck have all played in all four games with Saul and Barrowman both earning starts.

Barrowman was recruited out of Marshfield and had the chance to develop his skills under the New England Revolution Academy as well as playing for five other club teams in both Chicago and overseas in Glasgow, Scotland.

“I know Fran (O’Leary) is a great coach, he’s positive and wants to do a lot of big things with the program,” Barrowman said. “He’s also coached at a really high level before, and not many programs have that.”

Barrowman arrived in the preseason with a Minuteman team that had a solid back line, but was lacking in the middle and up front and it was there he began to make his mark.

“I came into to the preseason and just worked really hard,” Barrowman said. “(O’Leary) said that the playing time would be there if I worked for it.”

With three starts in the first four games, O’Leary has clearly been impressed with how the young freshman has stepped up early in the season.

“He has a terrific mentality and I love his appetite for the game,” O’Leary said following the season-opener against Syracuse. “He has a lot to learn, but that will come with time.”

Despite the amount of playing time and starts that he has earned so far, Barrowman has been going through a learn-as-you-go process against some pretty tough opponents. He admits that the college game is a little different.

“I’m still adopting same as the other guys are,” Barrowman said. “I’m used to a more technical game in my experience with the academy, where in college the game is a lot more physical.”

Searching far and wide

O’Leary did not limit the talent pool when looking for new faces to improve the program.

Konrad Gorich from Eberbach, Germany and sophomore transfer Stephen Ravazzoli from Ohio State have also made major contributions to the team in the form of six combined starts and nearly 500 combined minutes played in the first four games.

For Gorich, the decision to transition not only into the college game, but to do so overseas came down to a couple of simple reasons.

“Fran (O’Leary) was the biggest impact for me, I think he’s a great coach,” Gorich said. “Also, I think especially in America you have a great opportunity to not only play at a high level but further your education as well.”

The center back played at the club level in Germany before deciding to come to UMass, and as expected the playing style deviates from what he is used to here at the college level.

It’s a huge difference, I would say that in Germany  the game is more technical with the ball on the ground more where as here the game is a lot more kick and rush,” Gorich said.

Being an international player, Gorich also had to adjust to both a change in playing style as well as adjusting to the culture. When asked about how he’s adjusted with his new American teammates he only had positive things to say.

“The team is great,” Gorich said. “Everyone here is a good guy, and they treat me well and have welcomed me in.”

With so many new and young players making an impact this early in the season, it is clear that what O’Leary is doing is working, and it is resonating with the rest of the team. Despite the tough start to the season – dropping three of the first four games – the Minutemen have not shown any signs of a weakening morale.

Nick Souza can be reached at [email protected]