Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Davis Smith continues to adapt to new role for UMass men’s soccer

Smith continues to plug holes in the midfield

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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The goals may not be coming for Davis Smith, but as of late, they haven’t been his responsibility anyways.

Coming off a fantastic freshman season, in which he earned First Team All-Conference honors, an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year nod and a spot as a United Soccer Coaches Third Team All-American, the towering striker has been forced into a deeper role this season.

Smith bagged 10 goals up front for the Minutemen last year, but with question marks in the midfield, the Amherst native has seen a lot more time in the center of the pitch than he has in his usual forward role.

“Davis is so important for us,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said. “Before you discuss his play, you have to talk about his attitude. Totally unselfish, unspoiled — here you have an All-American forward who we’ve asked to come in and fill a gap we clearly have in the midfield, and he’s done it without batting an eyelid. Terrific attitude, terrific mentality, he’s a team-focused individual.”

Smith never played anywhere but up front last season; seniors Connor O’Dwyer and Alex DeSantis ran the midfield and facilitated his chances up top. But with those two graduating in the spring, O’Leary’s been forced to experiment with several different setups, before settling with Smith as an attacking midfielder in the last few contests.

“He’s come in and tightened the midfield,” O’Leary said. “It’s no coincidence that we’ve become a lot tighter and harder to beat since he’s moved in there. We’re absolutely delighted with him.”

It’s not a permanent move for Smith, who picked up an assist in Friday’s loss to Boston University — O’Leary plans to shuttle him back and forth between his usual striker role and his new midfield spot as necessary.

“We know what he offers up front, so there are games where we’ll ask him to move up front for us, but for now our need is in the middle of midfield,” O’Leary said. “Again, I can’t say enough about the kid. For a guy to willingly go back and move into a different position after he’s had great success speaks volumes for his character.

“He’s got confidence in his ability, it’s one of his strengths. He’s mentally strong… He’s just a winner. He was disappointed [against Clemson], he had an opportunity from a set piece and he put it over the bar. He’s a bit of a perfectionist, our guys love having him on the team because they know he’ll give everything every game.”

McPherson named A-10 Rookie of the Week

The breakout star of the last couple weeks has been freshman James McPherson, who came on in the second half against Bryant on Sept. 3 and turned the game on its head.

McPherson only played 28 minutes but made the very most of them, setting up two goals and scoring one himself in the span of just over six minutes to secure a result for the Minutemen.

“Three weeks ago, we weren’t sure if he’d play this season or if we’d redshirt him,” O’Leary said of McPherson, “but he kept performing in practice, got a little bit of playing time and has had a terrific week.”

The performance earned McPherson some extra playing time — having seen no action in either of the team’s first two games, he played 34 minutes in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Clemson and registered one of UMass’ two shots on goal.

“He’s a great lad,” O’Leary said. “He’s getting better all the time, he’s still young but the guys have confidence in him. More importantly, he’s got confidence in his own ability to perform at this level.”

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

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