Total team effort gives UMass men’s soccer victory in season opener

Grad student Eric Eberl scores winner in first game with the Minutemen

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Total team effort gives UMass men’s soccer victory in season opener

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

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It was a total team effort for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team, as it managed to pull off a 1-0 victory in its season opener against Northeastern.

It may have just been the first game of the season for the Minutemen (1-0), but so far, this group is answering a lot of the questions surrounding it, especially with so many young players including 14 newcomers to the program. Many of those newcomers played significant minutes for UMass.

“Individually and collectively, I thought we played superbly,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said. “The young guys came in today, you know, Quinn Serafino started and Ryan Levay came in and Logan [Brown] came in and they looked beyond their years. They gave us a tremendous game.”

Both teams started off slowly, save for a couple of minor opportunities that went wide or were stopped easily by the goalkeeper. Both teams put on a strong defensive effort in the first half, neither able to push across a goal. UMass was out-shot 9-5 by Northeastern (0-1) in the first half, but most of the shots by both teams were defended well.

The Minutemen came out swinging in the second half, with sophomore Cam Pattison narrowly missing a header wide just 90 seconds in. Two minutes later, fellow sophomore James McPherson barely sent a header to the side as well.

Things were clicking offensively, and the Minutemen would capitalize on the momentum in the 50th minute, when junior Chandler O’Dwyer sent in a cross off of a free-kick that senior captain Ryan Saul headed up and kept alive. The ball fell perfectly for Eric Eberl, who headed the ball into the net for the first and only score of the game. The graduate student was playing in his first game for the program.

O’Dwyer’s cross was the catalyst to the play and his placement of the ball set the Minutemen up perfectly for the score.

“He’s comfortable on the ball, he has a terrific left foot, and he’s very selfless with the ball,” said O’Leary of O’Dwyer’s performance. “He put in several perfect balls today that put Northeastern under pressure. We’re a little unfortunate not to capitalize on one or two more but with the goal, I think the challenge from Ryan Saul―he’s brave, he put his head in and he kept the ball alive and Eric finished it. On set pieces, you need a quality service, someone brave, someone to get a head in, and Ryan Saul did that, and then Eric came up and finished it off superbly.”

Last season, UMass could never really hold down a consistent midfield unit. With the partnership that O’Dwyer and Eli Cronin formed on Friday, coach Fran O’Leary shouldn’t have to look elsewhere for his starting unit in the middle. The duo was instrumental in all of the Minutemen’s attacks, and Cronin and O’Dwyer’s composure in both the attack and defense was impressive. Cronin had four shots, one of which hit off the post and barely failed to score. Their presence helped the young group be able to play without fear up front.

“We want our guys to pass the ball,” O’Leary said. “We encourage them. We know we’ll turn the ball over at times but we’ll never shout at players for trying to pass the ball. It’s an environment where they do feel comfortable to play and then Chandler and Eli, they both combined well today. Eli was unfortunate. He hit the post and he had another shot so he could’ve ended up with two goals today. It was a terrific performance from the two of them, both with the ball and when defending.”

After losing the entirety of their defense from last year, the Minutemen had major holes and questions that needed to be answered. While there were some mistakes made in the back, the group proved to be solid.

Anchored by Saul, who seemed to head every ball played in the box, UMass made a collective effort on defense. McPherson and Serafino were not afraid to throw themselves into tackles to win the ball back. The midfield won more tackles than an NFL linebacker. The defense was solid in the back and goalkeeper Marvyn Dorchin prevented every opportunity the Huskies had at scoring.

“It’s not just defending, it’s team defending, “O’Leary said. “It started at the front with James McPherson and Quinn. They’re the first line of defending and are backed up by the midfield and what they don’t pick up then the back four looks after. So it was a collective team effort in defending. If you do well it’s usually not going through to your keeper. You need things over the course of the game, you know, you’ll ask your defenders to make some crucial interceptions, you’ll ask your keeper to make a big save, and the save that Marvyn pulled off at the end of the game is just one of the best I’ve seen.”

Starting in the 80th minute, the Huskies had a sudden charge of energy and managed to string five scoring chances that were well defended by UMass. Dorchin, who didn’t really see much action in the first half, came out in the second half and put on a terrific performance. His composure and quick reflexes between the sticks kept the lead intact for the Minutemen late in the game.

“It’s a testament to his maturity,” said O’Leary on Dorchin’s late-game performance. “He wasn’t busy early on but keepers have to keep their concentration. You’re going to be called upon. You can’t hold off an attack for 90 minutes so the other team is at some stage going to pose a threat. It’s a credit to him, he stayed focused throughout and when called upon he was warm enough to do the task.”

The Minutemen return to the pitch on Monday at 4 p.m. when they host Sacred Heart in the 2019 home opener at Rudd Field.

Javier Melo can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @JMeloSports.