Set piece defense leads men’s soccer to 0-0 draw against Dayton

By Jamie Cushman

Samuel Asamoah passes the ball to Alex Desantis vs Dayton on Saturday. (Alex Tang/Daily Collegian)
Samuel Asamoah passes the ball to Alex Desantis vs Dayton on Saturday. (Alex Tang/Daily Collegian)

In last year’s 4-1 loss to Dayton, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team allowed a free kick goal just two minutes into the game. On Saturday the Flyers had more set piece chances, but the UMass defense held strong on the way to a 0-0 draw in their Atlantic 10 opener.

Dayton (3-5-2, 0-0-1 A-10) had nine corner kick chances in the first half, but the Minutemen (2-6-2, 0-0-1 A-10) successfully cleared the ball every time.

UMass coach Fran O’Leary described the improved set piece play as one of the most important factors in earning the draw against the Flyers.

“Dayton’s a big team, those are some big men, and they have terrific delivery on their set pieces,” O’Leary said. “We stood up to them today. Jorge (Becerra) in goal took pressure off, and then everyone, particularly our back four, attacked balls, very brave.”

Minutemen sophomore defender Brandon Merklin emphasized the team’s ability to focus during set pieces as key to their defensive success.

“We have this word, we say focus, and everyone’s focused for one play to get it out, and then we just move on from there,” Merklin said.

After allowing such a large number of corner kicks early in the game, UMass settled in and only allowed one corner kick in the entire second half and the two overtime periods.

O’Leary attributed this ability to limit Dayton’s chances later in the game to the Minutemen’s improved play in the second half, especially their offensive attack.

“The corner kick count tells you how the game went,” O’Leary said. “They were on top for a good majority of the first half, and then we just took over the game as it went on.”

The Minutemen also generated their own scoring chances off set pieces, but were unable to capitalize on any of them.

UMass’ best scoring chance in regulation came immediately following a corner kick when the ball ricocheted to junior midfielder Matthew Mooney right outside the box. He came just inches away from putting the Minutemen on the scoreboard, but ended up drilling the top right corner of the goal post.

Another near goal occurred in the first half of overtime when junior forward Alex DeSantis took a free kick and pushed it just to the right of the post, the closest UMass came to securing a golden goal.

One area of set pieces where Dayton seemed to have the advantage over the Minutemen was throw-ins. UMass often struggled to find an open player on its throw-ins, as the Flyers really focused on locking down the Minutemen closest to the ball.

O’Leary disagreed, suggesting UMass gave just as good as they got during the throw in battle.

“When the ball comes in they’re organized, they’re strong; I think both sides competed well on that,” O’Leary said.

Despite the few missed opportunities and some difficulty with throw ins, the Minutemen have plenty to be pleased with, including improved set piece play leading to a draw against the reigning conference champion.

With the 0-0 draw UMass senior goalkeeper Jorge Becerra earned his second clean sheet of the season, due in large part to the team’s defense of Dayton’s set pieces.

“Well they didn’t score so we defended them well,” Becerra said. “We strive on defending our set pieces. They had eight corner kicks in the whole game, no goals, and barely any shots on target off of that, so the back four, everyone, busted their balls out.”

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected].