Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer look to surprise the Atlantic 10 conference for the second consecutive season

By Nick Souza

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team finds itself in a familiar place entering the 2016 Atlantic 10 conference schedule as it did last year, slatted to finish 10th as the preseason polls continue to lack confidence in the Minutemen.

For UMass (2-6-1) coach Fran O’Leary and his players, this provides only added motivation with the conference season about to begin Saturday when the Minutemen host Dayton.

“We’ve got to go out and prove it now,” O’Leary said. “We’re projected to finish 10th this year and I think we’re going to surprise some people.”

Surprising the conference and punching a ticket to the tournament at the end of the season wouldn’t be anything new for UMass. The Minutemen were projected to be even more woeful last year with the first season under a new coach, and an unproven squad that had done little to instill confidence in anyone else.

However, UMass exceeded all expectations going 4-3-1 in conference play, finishing in a four-way tie for fourth place and a spot in the conference quarterfinals.

“It definitely gives us a chip on our shoulder” junior forward Alex DeSantis said.  “They projected us to finish 12th last year and for them to rank us 10th again this year I think we really have something to prove.”

The Minutemen will have a prime opportunity to prove something against defending conference champion Dayton at Rudd field. The Flyers (3-5-1) are also among the three heavy favorites to finish at the top of the league again this year, along with Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth.

“It’s a great way to start the season,” O’Leary said. “They were head and shoulders the best team in the conference last season in my opinion and one of the best in the country.”

O’Leary went on to reference the great offensive fire power Dayton displayed last year as it finished with 58 goals on the season.

Four of those 58 came UMass’s road matchup with them last season, when then-senior forward Maik Schoonderwoerd scored a hat trick against the Minutemen defense.

However, this year Schoonderwoerd is gone and the Minutemen will be playing at home, which does make a difference to them.

“Home field advantage is huge,” senior forward Ty Goncalves said. “We just like playing at home better, it’s a nicer day and we’re more relaxed and we’ve played well at home.”

The Minutemen come in to the start of the A-10 schedule having scored a combined seven goals in the past three games, defeating Hartford and Brown in the process.

Goncalves attributes his UMass’ recent offensive production to its set piece play as of late.

“Our set pieces have been a lot better, our corners, our throw ins,” Goncalves said. “We’re taking advantage of them and we’ve been working on them a lot in practice. Now we’re hungry in the box like coach (O’Leary) talked about.”

The Flyers are also not on the same blistering pace as last year, as evidence of both their record and the eight goals they’ve accumulated in the first nine games of the season this far.

While the numbers may suggest that Dayton is not the heavy weight it was last year, O’Leary is not underestimating the matchup and how important it is for UMass.

“They’ll be a formidable opponent since they’re returning most of last years’ players,” O’Leary said. “Home games are especially important in conference play and kicking off the season with three points will be huge.”

The Minutemen and the Flyers are set to kickoff at Rudd on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Nicholas Souza can be reached at [email protected] 

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