Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer wraps up preseason with exhibitions against BC, Northeastern

Reigning A-10 champs set to open play Friday

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By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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Nine months removed from raising the Atlantic 10 tournament championship trophy in Dayton, Ohio, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team is just days away from launching its first title defense in a decade.

The Minutemen finished up their preseason last week with exhibition matches against in-state opponents Boston College and Northeastern, playing the Eagles to a 2-2 draw before falling to the Huskies at home.

UMass returns a significant portion of the squad that went 6-1-1 in conference play last season, including leading scorer Davis Smith and the entire back line that had the conference’s second best defensive record last season.

That includes the surprise return of Konrad Gorich, an All-Conference Second Team selection last season, who will return as a graduate student to take charge of the back four again.

Paired with Gorich is senior Brandon Merklin, a fellow All-Conference Second Team choice last year, forming one of the A-10’s very best center back partnerships. They were flanked by seniors Casey Hamill on the left and Dylan Cranmer on the right against BC, a group that will likely go unchanged for most of the season.

“They’re experienced,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary of his back line. “They’ve won a league title and a conference (tournament) title, they’ve been with us for a while so you trust them implicitly. They’re good leaders, they’re proven winners, we’re delighted that they’re all back together.”

Smith, a sophomore, is the other major returnee for the Minutemen this season, having been named A-10 Rookie of the Year last season to go along with a spot on the All-Conference First Team. It didn’t take long for Smith to find his goal-scoring form again, putting the Minutemen ahead in the opening minutes at BC.

Expectations are running high for Smith, who made a preseason watch list of 32 players for the MAC Hermann Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in collegiate soccer, awarded to the best player in the country each year.

“He’s matured, he’s come on in leaps and bounds, and it’s dawned on him that if you want to be a top striker, in college or in the pros or wherever, you’re going to take a lot of physical punishment and you have to be able to handle that,” said O’Leary. “Throughout the preseason he’s been up against good defenders, he’s handling it, he’s matured, and he’s come on in leaps and bounds.”

Gorich nodded home a header early in the second half to double the lead, but two late Eagle goals left things all squared at 2-2, a result that left O’Leary unfazed.

“I thought we were competitive, we were composed at times, the fact that you score two goals against a team as good as Boston College is always a positive,” O’Leary said. “But the result doesn’t matter, for either team. I thought we had a lot of good performances, and the young guys got some valuable minutes today. It helped with our fitness, and we’ll get a little bit better from it.”

While the defensive unit is the team’s steadiest, there remain question marks at goalkeeper. Sophomore Marvyn Dorchin played the full 90 minutes against BC, picking up an assist on Gorich’s goal, but redshirt freshman Trey Miller could be O’Leary’s number one, as could freshman Robert Leamey.

“It’s a good competition right now,” O’Leary said. “We’ve got three keepers, Marvyn was in today, Trey has a slight knock so we rested him today, and it’ll be a good competition. Over time, they’ll tell us who the starter is. They’ll tell me, I won’t tell them.”

After the draw with BC and the loss to Northeastern, the Minutemen will see their first real action against UMass Lowell on Friday night, with plenty to improve upon before the opener.

“We have to work on everything,” O’Leary said after the BC game. “We’re not tight, our zones aren’t tight, we’re not compact as a group yet, we’ve got to keep working on the decision making in tight areas, and overall we have to keep working our match fitness.

“Today was a great day, it was really warm, so guys got some good hard minutes in. BC’s a terrific team, so they put us under stress, and that’s how you get better as a good player ultimately, you get put under stress.”

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

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