UMass men’s soccer falls in regular season finale

By Christopher Marino

Konrad Gorich (4) and Josh Jess (6) jump into the air to head the ball on October 22 against VCU. Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Konrad Gorich (4) and Josh Jess (6) jump into the air to head the ball on October 22 against VCU. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

After clinching a spot in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament earlier in the week at Fordham, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team was defeated in the conclusion of its regular season 1-0 at La Salle on Saturday. Following the loss, the Minutemen finished fourth in the conference’s regular season standings.

The match marked the first time in seven contests that UMass (7-8-6, 4-4-2 A-10) failed to net a strike in the opponent’s goal, dating back to a scoreless draw with Dayton on Oct. 1.

“They (La Salle) competed aggressively, they defended the box well,” Coach Fran O’Leary said. “When we go on the road it is hard to score goals…we knew we needed to win one of two road games to get into the tournament, fortunately we were able to get the result against Fordham mid-week.”

Thirty-one minutes into the match, the Explorers’ (10-7-1, 5-3-0 A-10) Matt Robinson volleyed a throw in from defender Zach Rutherford into the back of the net, giving La Salle what ultimately proved to be the game winning goal.

This was the second of two road matches in four days for the Minutemen (both in conference) with the outcome of the season depending solely on the results of this final road trip. UMass needed to come out on top in at least one to extend the season to next week’s conference tournament.

Significantly less was at stake in the match-up against the Explorers following the victory over the Rams. However, seeding for the conference tournament was still fluid and the level of play this close to the post season is always highly scrutinized.

“Any time we lose we’re disappointed, we were a lot stronger in the second half but it is a big task to be twice on the road in a week where your opponent is better rested. But congrats to them, they deserved the win,” O’Leary said. “Now we dust ourselves off and get ready for the A-10 tournament.”

The last game of the regular season is not the most opportune time for the first shutout loss in a month, but UMass has won three straight low scoring and tightly contested games heading into Saturday and have come out on top in close matches throughout the season.

“No, we are not concerned,” O’Leary said. “We created chances in the game, we were a little unfortunate. In another game we could have come away with a couple of goals. So no, no worries going into the A-10 tournament.”

What is more significant is the big picture of the regular season that can be reflected on at this point. One of the major themes for the Minutemen has been defense, which has shutout the opposition six times this season.

Goalkeeper Jorge Becerra tied his season high with nine saves as UMass allowed just one score while being outshot 21-9, with 10 times on goal from the Explorers.

“When you look over the course we have conceded just four goals in eight games and it’s not just the defense, it’s the whole team. It starts with the forwards collectively defensively,” Becerra said. “As a collective defensive unit we have obviously done very well and that’s really given us a springboard to get a top four seed.”

While there may be things to tweak in the couple of days of preparation between now and the post season, the overall level of play is where the Minutemen and O’Leary want it, and the loss doesn’t suggest huge problems that need to be addressed.

For now, the team can reflect on finishing as a top four seed of the conference.

“The way we look at it we were picked to finish tenth and we are six seeds higher than people expected us to be,” O’Leary said. “For a team to be picked 10th, finish fourth and be number one in defense is a great, great credit to our team.”

The Minutemen begin the chase for the conference championship when they face VCU Thursday in Davidson, North Carolina.

Chris Marino can be reached at [email protected]