In the final contest of the regular season, with a postseason trip still within grasp, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team put its foot on the gas and walked off George Washington’s home field Wednesday with one more tally in the win column. However, it wasn’t until late that night that the Minutemen could punch their tournament ticket.
Behind the energy of Yosuke Hanya and Clement Benhaddouche and the reliable feet of DeAndrae Brown and Davis Smith, UMass (7-8-2, 3-5-0 A-10) fired 16 shots on the Colonials on their way to a 3-1 victory.
The result against George Washington (5-9-3,1-5-2 A-10) kept the Minutemen’s season alive for several more hours, and left the team waiting on more results, which would ultimately decide their season.
Needing Virginia Commonwealth to defeat St. Bonaventure, Davidson to defeat Duquesne and Saint Joseph’s to tie with St. Louis, the odds seemed slim for UMass.
However, after a wins by VCU and Davidson, and with Saint Joe’s and St. Louis knotted at three late in a second overtime period, the chances began to become a very real possibility for the Minutemen.
Saint Joe’s scored an apparent game-winning goal with seconds left on the clock, but referees disallowed it, setting up a three-way tie for eighth place in the A-10 between UMass, Saint Joe’s, and St. Bonaventure.
It took five rounds of tiebreakers, ending on goal differential against common conference opponents, to simply eliminate St. Bonaventure from competition, sending the Minutemen and the Hawks to a two-way tiebreaker.
After an additional three tiebreakers, UMass emerged on top, with the better record versus the highest ranked common opponent. In this case, the Minutemen’s October 6 victory against George Mason, who Saint Joe’s lost to, proved the decider.
But before any tiebreaking could occur, UMass needed a win to stay in contention. Striking first for the Minutemen was Hanya, playing forward ahead of his usual position in the midfield, who notched his first goal in a UMass jersey off an assist from Brandon Merklin in the 29th minute.
Midway through the second half, it was Hanya again who queued up a goal, after he was taken down just outside the box, a consistent occurrence this season. Brown pounced on a rebound off the ensuing free kick, putting the Minutemen up 2-0.
Less than 90 seconds later, it was Smith’s turn, as he found the back of the net off a combination from Hanya and Benhaddouche.
“Davis was a handful up front for them all day,” head coach Fran O’Leary said after the game.
O’Leary also applauded Benhaddouche, whose six shots led the team. His “set pieces today were devastating,” O’Leary remarked.
This hill proved too much for George Washington to climb. Despite a 71st minute goal for the Colonials off a free kick, stout defensive play kept the game out of reach.
Following the game, O’Leary said that he was “very pleased with the result”. “We dominated, similar to many games in the conference this season,” he said, noting the 16 shots the team put up.
Coming into their final matchup of the regular season, the Minutemen sat on eight days of rest, which O’Leary said can worry coaches, who fear a team may play flat after extended time off. Instead, UMass came out “flying”, as O’Leary put it. “We needed a win today,” he said. “All credit to the guys.”
UMass will enter the A-10 tournament as the eighth seed and draw top-ranked Virginia Commonwealth in the first round. It was the Rams who the Minutemen topped 3-1 in last year’s A-10 tournament final, though this year’s singular matchup saw UMass fall 2-0.
Kickoff against VCU is set for 2 p.m. Sunday.
Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected]