Fulton, Smith leading the way for UMass Soccer offensively

By Amin Touri

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

Soccer is a team sport if there ever was one, but it’s tough to beat a truly dominant partnership up front.

Junior Jack Fulton and freshman Davis Smith have been just that for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team over the last few weeks, as the two have established themselves as the starting forwards for a UMass (9-3-2, 3-0-1 Atlantic 10) team that has been especially potent offensively as of late, as the Minutemen prepare to take on Rhode Island (8-2-3, 3-0-1 A-10) at home on Wednesday.

The two sides currently share the top spot in the conference standings, with 10 points each through four matches.

“I think they’ve done very well,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary of his two strikers. “One of them has scored in each game dating back to our unbeaten run, so they play well together. But we have total confidence in all of our strikers—[Samuel Asamoah] and [Mike Rita] came in and gave us a real boost before halftime this past weekend, so the two guys up front have been very good, but I’d say the four of them have given us valuable minutes.”

Neither Fulton nor Smith scored through the first six games of the year, as the Minutemen had to find goals elsewhere. But since Smith tallied his first collegiate goal against Colgate on Sept. 16, the two have been absolutely lethal, forming the prolific tandem UMass has lacked for years.

“They both pose different issues to teams, as all our strikers do,” O’Leary said. “We’re very lucky to finally have some depth in that position, and we’re getting goals from our forwards, which is what you want.”

Goalless in his first four appearances, Fulton has scored four times in his last six games, including a late equalizer against Saint Joseph’s that salvaged a road point.

“They’re both intelligent players,” said O’Leary. “[Fulton] reads off of Davis, Davis being our big man will gather a bit of attention. [Fulton] is very good at anticipating where balls will go, and is a natural finisher. You always feel if a ball falls to [Fulton], there’s a strong chance it’ll end up in the back of the net. He’s come in lately and done a terrific job from that point of view.”

Smith, meanwhile, has been even more impressive as of late. Just a freshman, Smith saw his goalless first six performances and responded with seven goals in his next six games, including two-goal performances against Saint Louis and Duquesne.

“In terms of Davis, he’s growing every game,” O’Leary said. “He’s getting better and maturing with every game. He’s a marked man now because he’s scored several goals, and by the nature of him being a big lad, people tend to focus on him. He’s shown a real mature, strong mentality; he doesn’t get upset now and is just an absolute handful for defenders.”

Smith now sits tied for second in the A-10 goal-scoring leaderboard in all competitions with seven goals, but leads all scorers with four goals in conference play. Smith has also added a pair of assists in four conference matches, and that’s where the UMass coaching staff sees his real value — even when the goals don’t come, Smith affects the game in other ways.

“We knew we had a good player,” O’Leary said of Smith. “Being a forward, by nature it can be streaky business—sometimes the goals come, and then they dry up, and they come again. The thing that has pleased us most about Davis is whether the goals come or don’t come, he does so much more for the team.”

“If defenders are looking for an outlet, he’s always available; he does a tremendous amount of work — he takes a lot of physical punishment and doesn’t complain. We frankly didn’t expect to get this many goals out of a freshman, so we’re really, really pleased with that. I think even more so, we’re delighted with his attitude, his mentality and what he brings to the team aside from his goals,” he added.

Fulton and Smith will need to be on form on Wednesday, as the Minutemen take on a URI team that has allowed fewer than a goal per game this season, and ranks as one of the stingier defensive teams in the conference.

The Rams are tough, but against a strike force like the one O’Leary has put together, they’ll have their hands full as they come to Amherst for a battle of the conference’s top two teams.

Kickoff Wednesday is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Rudd Field.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.