With 14 minutes left on the game clock and trailing Vermont 1-0, it looked as though the Massachusetts men’s soccer team would end non-conference play with a poor taste in its mouth.
UMass had not shown any life on the offensive end, mounting only two shots in the second half at the time.
That is when freshmen Davis Smith got a free run at the goal and found the back of the net. Just over two minutes later, senior Alex DeSantis drilled a free kick past the Vermont goalkeeper from 20-yards out and suddenly the Minutemen were in the lead. The 2-1 score would stand to be the final.
The win over Vermont is a great indicator as to how far improved this UMass team is over those in the past. The Minutemen struggled with the Catamounts in Fran O’Leary’s first two seasons as head coach, falling 3-2 a season ago and being shut out 3-0 at Rudd Field in 2015.
“It’s a good mark,” O’Leary said after the win. “We just keep saying can we keep getting better. The last time we played here they put three past us. They’re a very good team, they were in the NCAA tournament. For us to get a result like this is very pleasing.”
DeSantis sees the win as a showing of how much better this team is than ones of the past.
“The last couple years we got smashed by UVM when we played them, so we definitely wanted to come out and let them know what we are this year,” DeSantis said.
Vermont is one of a few tournament teams from last season UMass has knocked off during its non-conference portion of the schedule, with wins also coming against St. Francis and Colgate. The Minutemen’s only loss to a tournament team from last year was to Dartmouth.
UMass also took a 1-1 draw against Columbia early this season, a team that currently is ranked No. 3 in the country.
The Minutemen finish at a 6-2-2 record outside of the Atlantic 10 conference. That is a major improvement from the past couple years where they finished 3-7-1 in 2016 and 1-10 in 2015.
“We’ve been working hard this year,” DeSantis said. “Every year in the four years I’ve been here, we’ve been getting better and better. We’re finally seeing it now.”
Despite its struggles outside the conference, UMass has been a tough out when facing against A-10 opponents. The Minutemen went 4-2-2 last season in the conference and 4-3-1 the year before that.
The strong play outside of the conference has put UMass in a great position heading into conference play, as they currently sit in first place in the A-10 standings.
After already picking up a win against a Saint Louis team that finished last season with the best record within the A-10, the Minutemen have shown that they are a team to be feared within the conference.
If UMass wants to continue making a run at the conference title, they will need to continue getting strong play from Smith, who has come on as of late. The freshman has scored goals in four of the last five games, including a two goal performance against Billikens.
If the Minutemen can bring the effort they put forth during non-conference play into A-10 action, they will be a tough out for every opponent they face.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @TJ__Johnston.