All the talk is about the annual UMass Derby as the Massachusetts men’s soccer team prepares to face UMass Lowell on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s the UMass Derby, we’ve been talking about that and we’re just really excited, we want to bring it home,” said sophomore Graham Brenner, who is tied for the team lead in points.
“We’re loving the whole Derby situation,” fellow sophomore James McPherson said. “One of our guys, one of our really good friends, Tyler [Mann], played at UMass Lowell. We just want to go out and beat them, for him and for everyone on the team and obviously, coach wants to go out and beat them. We want to win as many games as we can, but the most exciting thing is just being able to play another game of soccer.”
The Minutemen (4-2-0) are returning from a three-game road trip that saw them face some tough competition. Although they will be at home, they will face a tough test against a vaunted Lowell (3-2-1) defense.
“They’re a great team and the coach has done a terrific job,” coach Fran O’Leary said. “They have experience and talented players from all over the world. They have terrific players from Croatia, Slovakia, Germany, Iceland – all over. They’re really good players. We will have to bring our best game to be competitive against them.”
One of the key areas for the Minutemen on Saturday is rebounding from a tough loss at Bryant University, when UMass blew a one-goal lead in the final 25 minutes of the game. Avoiding mistakes will be critical when facing the talented River Hawks Saturday, as mistakes played a large role in Tuesday’s loss.
“One of our strengths is that we know what we are, we have an identity, we’ll keep playing our game,” O’Leary said. “I think you’ve got to be careful not to chop and change based on the result. You’ve just got to try and improve if you believe in your players, which we do, and you believe in the way you’re playing, which we do.”
The Lowell game, along with a matchup against Boston College next Tuesday, are the final games for the Minutemen before they begin Atlantic 10 play. As both will be difficult tests, they will serve as ample preparation for a stacked A-10.
“We’re going to do some things well, hopefully build our confidence and get some results,” O’Leary said. “We know we’ve got to be at the top of our game to get anything out of these next two games. They’re as good as, if not better than, what we’ll see in the A-10 this year. It’s a chance to go up against a team that’s won its conference in Lowell – been in the NCAA tournament, been nationally ranked – and B.C., anytime you play an ACC school you know you’re up against it. We’ll get some weaknesses exposed and we’ll do some things well, we’ll dust ourselves off and get ready for conference play.”
“The conference is going to be just like these next two games,” McPherson said. “We’ve got a really good conference, especially the teams we’re playing this year. We have some really good teams on the road, a lot of the really good teams at home, so we’re lucky enough for that. We’re going to go out and play how we play and we’re going to take the stuff we do bad and make it good by the time we get to the conference.”
The vaunted defenses of both the Minutemen and the River Hawks will likely lead to an extremely physical matchup. Both teams are allowing fewer than two goals per game, the Minutemen having played six games and the River Hawks having played five.
Despite a statistical advantage for UMass, which has allowed just three goals this season, UMass Lowell is considered to have the superior defense. Last year the River Hawks shut out the Minutemen in an early-season win, as UMass took 11 shots but failed to convert any of them.
The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. at Rudd Field in Amherst.
Michael Townsend can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MichaelTowns777.