UMass men’s soccer hosts Fordham with A-10 title on the line

By Amin Touri

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team is one win away from an Atlantic 10 regular season championship, but the road to the title runs through the defending conference champions.

The Minutemen (12-2-3, 6-0-1 A-10) will host Fordham (10-4-2, 4-2-1 A-10) on Wednesday with the top seed in the A-10 tournament on the line—a tournament that the Rams won last season.

Fordham is a well-coached, well-rounded team that will not make anything easy for UMass coach Fran O’Leary and his team this week.

“Fordham’s got the best defensive unit in the conference right now,” said O’Leary. “They also have a former attacking player-of-the-year up front, who’s arguably one of the top strikers in the region, even beyond the A-10. So you’ve got the combination of a goal-scoring threat coupled with a defense that’s very well-coached and doesn’t give away goals, so it’s going to be a tough one.”

Defensively, the Rams are far and away the toughest side in the conference — they’ve only conceded nine goals this season, four tallies fewer than any other team in the A-10 and with only four coming in conference play.

Against the Minutemen, who boast the most prolific attack in the A-10, it’s the classic matchup of an unstoppable force against an immovable object — the top offense in the conference taking on the stingiest defense.

“I think it’s going to be a fascinating game,” O’Leary said, “I hope a lot of people come out to watch…we’re averaging three goals a game, so we’re scoring goals in the conference at home and on the road, and they’re not conceding many so it’ll be a great and intriguing little battle.”

Fordham also poses problems going forward, with defending A-10 Offensive Player of the Year Janos Loebe leading the way. Though they’ve made their reputation through not conceding goals, the Rams are a major threat to score them too.

For UMass to secure its first regular season title since 2008, it will take a near-perfect performance against one of the top programs in the region.

“I think it’s a great challenge, and it is fitting,” said O’Leary. “Whoever ends up winning the league will have done it over a series of games. The conference tournament is great, but they’re one-off days, and the team that wins the league will have played consistently over the last six or seven weeks.

“It’s not going to be easy; Fordham is—over my three years here—probably the most consistent team in the A-10,” he added. “They know how to win games, so we’ll be ready for the challenge, but it’s going to be a big challenge against a very good team.”

O’Leary, however, doesn’t have much of an interest in worrying about titles and trophies. As far as he’s concerned, the only thing on the line when kickoff arrives on Wednesday is another three points, and an opportunity for improvement.

“It’s just a game,” O’Leary says. “It sounds boring, but it’s just a game. We’ll either win, lose or draw, and we’ll dust ourselves off, pick the bones off of it and try and get better. It’s fortunate that we’ve secured a place in the conference playoffs and secured a home game, but that’s down the road. Right now, we’re just trying to win a game.”

“Obviously the guys know that there’s a trophy on the line. They’re well aware of it, so I don’t really need to talk about it,” O’Leary said.

The Minutemen control their own destiny, sitting on 19 points atop the A-10 standings with Virginia Commonwealth a point behind at 18 points. If UMass seals a victory on Wednesday, it will seal the title too—a loss or a draw, however, puts things in doubt, as VCU would have the opportunity to snatch the title with a win over St. Bonaventure.

Kickoff against Fordham is set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

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