Strong defense leads UMass men’s soccer to a tie vs. Columbia

By Thomas Johnston

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team continued its strong start to the season on Friday, finishing in a 1-1 draw in double overtime against the Columbia Lions.

Columbia, who was a NCAA tournament team last year, applied pressure to UMass (2-0-1) throughout the contest. It finished the game with 16 shots, but were only able to slip one past Minutemen goalkeeper Bardia Asefnia.

UMass was also able to withstand six Lion corner kicks, not allowing any easy goals.

“We work as a team and that’s what makes us strong,” defenseman Konrad Gorich said after the game. “We defend as a whole team, everyone of us did a good job.”

UMass coach Fran O’Leary was pleased with the way his team was able to slow down a fast paced Columbia (0-0-1) attack.

“We say we defend from the front but the back four have been very good for us,” O’Leary said. “When you’re playing a tough team, you need your goalkeeper to make a huge save and Bardia was tremendous today.”

The huge save that O’Leary referred to came with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half. The Lions looked poised to strike the first goal of the contest when Asefnia dove across the net to make a save. The rebound came out to a Columbia player who struck the ball, but Asefnia was there to make yet another save.

The Minutemen got on the board shortly after. Casey Hamill fired in a throw near the corner into the box where the towering 6-foot-6 freshman Davis Smith was able to get a tiny piece of the ball. The ball then deflected to Jared McCleary who put the ball past the Columbia goaltender for his first goal of the season.

The UMass lead held strong until the 72nd minute when Columbia midfielder John Denis got a clean look on a shot, bending it to the far post from about 25-yards out to knot the game up at one.

The Minutemen offense struggled to get many shots on goal during the game. Columbia goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira was only forced into making two saves throughout the 110-minute game. UMass was able to generate five corner kicks, but were unable to capitalize on them.

The game would stay tied through regulation. In overtime, Columbia put their foot on the gas, keeping the ball mostly in the Minutemen’s half of the field. The UMass defense held firm, only forcing Asefnia to make a pair of saves.

While winning is the ultimate goal, a tie is not a bad result against a team as skilled as Columbia. O’Leary was pleased with the way his team has started the season.

“We’re playing a team that lost three games total last year,” O’Leary said. “I thought we were very resilient today. To be 2-0-1 in three games we are very pleased with the start of the season.”

Gorich says his team’s work in the offseason can be credited to their early success. His defensive unit seems to have gelled well, only allowing two goals in the Minutemen’s first three games.

“I think we worked hard in preseason as a team,” Gorich said. “We work as a team and that’s what makes us strong.”

The Minutemen will travel to New Hampshire to take on the Wildcats Tuesday night.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.