Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer looks to find consistency amid recent success

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Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

For Massachusetts coach Fran O’Leary and the rest of the Minutemen, consistency comes first.

After a shaky start to the 2016 season, UMass (2-6-2, 0-0-1 Atlantic 10) is 2-1-1 in its last four games with two shutouts. The most notable game was also the most recent, as the Minutemen battled defending A-10 champions Dayton to a 0-0 draw last Saturday afternoon.

“I think the first thing that stood out was how well we defended our penalty area,” O’Leary said of his team’s latest effort. “[Dayton] were on top in the first 30 minutes with seven or eight corner kicks, and we showed great strength defending our box. As a result of that, we grew into the game and felt we had better chances the rest of the way.”

The game’s theme was defense, something the Minutemen have been focused on since the season’s start. Between 2014 and 2015, UMass had just three shutouts in two full seasons. Half-way through 2016, the Minutemen already have two.

UMass’ back line has been its strongest phase. Thanks to clear communication and execution, few corners or free kicks have led to goals against the Minutemen. Goalkeeper Jorge Becerra saves 4.9 shots a game, good for 28th out of 150 qualified Division I goalkeepers, and that has a large part thanks to the defenders in front of him. A healthy mix of veteran presence and blossoming talent, the group has gotten better in every game.

The improving play is promising, but it must continue for it to matter. The team’s record is not where they want it to be and O’Leary knows that consistent improvement and constant focus are key in taking the next step.

“The concentration levels are getting better and better,” O’Leary said. “Overall, we’re more focused on defending collectively as a group. This happens when you try to get better as the season goes on. We have two shutouts in our last four games, which gives us a good foundation to build on as the season continues.”

The concentration among the players and coaches is unmistakable. Amid dense fog, the team practices early on weekdays before the beginning of classes. The heavy morning air does not slow the Minutemen as they continue drill after drill. Coaches can be heard bellowing orders as the rest of campus is just rolling out of bed.

“We’ve been wanting to show more composure in possession, in order to knit together a number of passes,” O’Leary said. “If we can keep spitting out performance after performance, our confidence in each other will grow accordingly.”

Consistency has many moving parts. For success to be consistent, everything that goes into producing success must stay constant. Whether its maximum effort in the early morning practices, concentration during a game or chemistry growth, it all goes into the steadiness of the team’s performance. This steadiness is what O’Leary and the Minutemen are striving for to compete for a conference title.

“We just want to spit out another good performance,” O’Leary said of his team’s final nonconference game, a Tuesday afternoon home match against Central Connecticut. “After coming off back-to-back good performances, we want to have the same level of energy, the same level of intensity and the same level of concentration.”

 

Henry Brechter can be reached at [email protected]

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