Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Season’s toughest weekend approaches for UMass men’s soccer

Dartmouth, New Hampshire come to town

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(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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The Massachusetts men’s soccer team is preparing for its last two non-conference games of the season this week, and the Minutemen have saved the toughest for last.

With just 10 days remaining until the Atlantic 10 opener on Sept. 29, UMass (4-2-2) will host a pair of Granite State powerhouses to close out the non-conference slate, taking on Dartmouth (0-3-2) on Saturday before facing New Hampshire (5-1-1) on Tuesday.

The Big Green are winless through five games but have faced a gauntlet of a schedule, opening the year with two ranked opponents in No. 6 Indiana and No. 24 Notre Dame, then taking on Connecticut, Boston University and UNH.

“Dartmouth is the best team in the Ivy League,” said UMass coach Fran O’Leary. “Let’s not get fooled by their current record — their schedule to start the season is one of the toughest in the country. Being any Ivy League side, they also start off a little later than everyone else, they’re just catching stride now.”

Dartmouth, the defending Ivy League champions, returns leading scorer Eduvie Ikoba, who bagged eight goals to go with three assists en route to a First Team All-Ivy League selection in 2017. The Big Green took home a 1-0 win against the Minutemen in Hanover last season.

UMass only has a three-day turnaround before UNH on Tuesday; the Wildcats handed the Minutemen their biggest loss of 2017 — a comfortable 3-0 in September — and sent Dartmouth packing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s definitely our toughest non-conference weekend,” O’Leary said. “On our schedule, they’re the two toughest teams we’ll play next to Clemson and it’s going to be a real challenge. But we’ll come out wiser. We played Central Connecticut, who we struggled with last year and we tied 1-1, and we put five past them. Now will be a real opportunity [to see] how we stand against really good sides.”

UMass has been on a good run as of late, with a draw against Clemson and two wins in its last three outings, but takes a step up in competition to finish out the non-conference.

“I think [Dartmouth] has been in the NCAA tournament each of the last four years; the next two teams we play were two of the three teams from New England to make the NCAA tournament [last season],” O’Leary said. “So we’ll get weaknesses exposed, and have a real idea of where we stand before we go into the conference.”

To offset the strength of schedule, the Minutemen have a full week to prepare for Dartmouth, having played four games in nine days culminating in a 5-2 win over Central Connecticut State.

“Credit to our guys,” O’Leary said, “they’ve put in a really big shift of games. It was deliberately scheduled that way so we could get some rest before Dartmouth and some rest before we go into A-10 [play].

“What we’re trying to do is recover, and having a full week of training allows you to get a lot more done. When you have midweek games popped in, you’re usually recovering and then preparing, and the games come too quick to get good sessions in. So this is a chance, today and tomorrow, to get proper sessions in, which is our opportunity to get better. We’ll calm it down Thursday, get going again Friday and be ready for Saturday.”

The Minutemen will be without star striker Davis Smith on Saturday, who picked up a red card against CCSU over the weekend, a big loss for a team already riddled with injuries in the early going.

“Davis is a loss, the big man was unfortunate,” O’Leary said. “He competed for the ball, so I thought he was very unfortunate to come out with a red card. We’ll miss Davis, but the last couple of games, three of our four captains haven’t played, or have played very little. Konrad [Gorich] is out, Casey [Hamill] is out, Kevin [Boino] has been out, Sam [Asamoah] has been out, so four starters and three of the four captains have been out lately.

“When you’re playing well, you don’t need to focus on the players you’re missing. So we’ll get someone else to come in and step in, we’re fortunate that we have a lot of options up front. DeAndrae [Brown] has done great, James [McPherson] is maturing all the time, [Asamoah] can play there, [Boino] can play there, so we’ve got some options. Injuries and suspensions are part of the season, you just get on with it.”

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 1 p.m. at Rudd Field.

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

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