UMass men’s soccer tries to snap three-game losing streak against surging Dayton

Dayton coming off big upset over No. 20 West Virginia

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UMass men’s soccer tries to snap three-game losing streak against surging Dayton

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

By Michael Townsend, Collegian Staff

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A difficult schedule so far presents another challenge as the Massachusetts men’s soccer team prepares to face Dayton on the road Saturday night.

Dayton (4-4-0), who was picked to finish fourth overall in the Atlantic 10 conference this year, notched an impressive 2-0 upset over No. 20 West Virginia on Saturday. On a three-game winning streak, Dayton has been finding its stride just as the Minutemen (4-4-0) are coming back to earth, with an upset by Bryant the low point of a three-game skid.

“I don’t think anyone here really fears anyone,” midfielder Chandler O’Dwyer said. “We have a mindset that we have a game plan, we’re going to go out there, follow the game plan, and hopefully get the win.”

Getting the win will require a solid effort from the UMass defense in order to stop a Dayton attack that has scored 10 goals in its last three contests. The defense, which has allowed only five goals in eight games, has been a strength for the Minutemen all year, so more of the same will be needed on Saturday.

“We’ve conceded five goals in the first eight games,” coach Fran O’Leary said. “Probably, statistically we’re in the top ten in the country in goals against. If we keep going at this rate we’ll definitely be in the top ten in the country in goals against.”

The Minutemen have struggled all season to convert on their scoring opportunities, although they have been excellent at creating them. The offense needs a turning point at the very least to outscore a Flyers team that has recorded a clean sheet in each of its last three contests.

The Dayton game marks the beginning of A-10 play for the Minutemen. In addition to Dayton, the A-10 boasts a number of other formidable opponents, including VCU, Saint Louis, and Rhode Island, who were predicted to finish ahead of Dayton in the conference preseason poll.

“I think we know our identity, we have to make it difficult for other teams,” O’Leary said. “They’ll have quality, they’ll have a lot of experienced international players; we’ll see this week in and week out in the conference. We’ll see guys who might be a little quicker than us, a little more technical than us at times, but collectively we work together as a group, we usually manage to find ways to get points, and that’s our goal.

“We want to get enough points to go to the A-10 playoff again. Once you’re in the A-10 playoffs, you’re in with a chance. It’s going to be really difficult. If you look at our first two games – Saint Louis and Dayton – I think they’re picked second and [fourth] in the conference this year. We will have our hands full, but we’ve managed so far, and I know we’re a lot better now than we were four weeks ago. Is it good enough? Time will tell.”

Last season, UMass finished ninth in the A-10. Although they qualified for the playoffs, the Minutemen needed multiple tiebreakers to sneak in. UMass hopes that their tough schedule to start the year off will prepare them for a better finish this year.

“If you look at the teams we’ve played in the last three weeks – the likes of Dartmouth, the likes of UMass Lowell, we’ve played Boston College – they’re very highly ranked teams, very good teams,” O’Leary said. “Some of the teams we’ve been playing are better than the teams we will be playing, so I feel like the whole team’s ready.”

If the Minutemen can overcome the injuries to star players Yosuke Hanya and Eli Cronin as well as the difficulty they have had converting their opportunities this season, they should be competitive against Dayton Saturday. If not, this should be an easy defeat at the hands of an incredibly talented opponent.

Michael Townsend can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MichaelTowns777.