Strong defensive performance not enough in UMass men’s soccer’s 1-0 loss to URI

Minutemen held Rams to two shots on goal

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(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

By Michael Townsend , Collegian Staff

Unable to back up their big defeat of Duquesne with an upset, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team played a defensive masterpiece in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to current Atlantic 10 leaders Rhode Island.

In the 78th minute, URI’s Filippo Tamburini scored the difference-making goal for the Rams. Minutemen midfielder Christian Labeck aggressively attacked the net with four shots – two of them, including the potential equalizer, on goal – but failed to convert on any as the Minutemen (5-10-0, 1-5-0 A-10) failed to carry over the momentum from Saturday’s victory into Wednesday’s game.

“It was a disappointment,” UMass coach Fran O’Leary said. “URI is a very good team, but we made them look like a fantastic team in the first half. Everyone was a yard off them, we looked a little afraid and we stayed off them, paid them too much respect and they moved the ball around at ease. In the second half we closed them down, started getting amongst them, took over the game, had some chances, they broke. Instead of trying to win a game over 90 minutes we tried to win the game over 45 minutes. It’s hard against a top team to do that.”

UMass managed to make it out of the first half with a scoreless game, although they looked nervous from time to time. Benjamin Wiemann and Labeck both failed to convert good looks at the net early on. The Minutemen defense played off ball early on, which allowed for easy Rams ball movement.

“It’s a difference of a yard or two,” O’Leary said. “If you get up to the ball and pressure someone they don’t look as good. If you’re two or three yards off of them, anyone can look like a good player. We were two or three yards off of them in the first half, and we just closed them down in the second half and suddenly realized they’d give the ball back to us. We started getting a lot more possession because we pressured them and then they turned the ball over. It’s just a matter of a couple of yards and actually getting into them.”

In the second half, UMass locked down defensively, making URI look far more average than the strong competitor they’ve been for most of the season. Tamburini scored for the Rams against the pressure, but the Minutemen fought back. Labeck nearly scored within the final ten seconds. but the Rams made it out of Amherst with their sixth straight win.

“The first half, we were just way too slow,” defenseman Logan Brown said. “Sat back a little too much, let them play the way they want to play and get their confidence up. I think second half, we definitely came out stronger. The wind I think was a good factor for that. I think overall, it was a little late to come out that strong because we gave them 45-minutes to build up and we didn’t have any opportunities in the first half. Coming in late like that into the first half, building up our confidence, they just had the upper hand and they took it and they got one opportunity and they scored off it. We just didn’t find the net.”

URI came into the 2019 season with very strong projections, picked to finish third in the A-10 preseason poll. So far, they have exceeded these expectations, leading the conference with 18 points after the UMass game. The Minutemen, currently tied for 10th place in the A-10 with three points, are in the opposite situation after being projected to finish ninth. Despite the opposite trajectories and identities of these teams, this was a hard-fought, physical contest that could have gone either way in the second half.

“I think it was competitive in the second half,” O’Leary said. “I don’t think as much in the first half because we were off them so much. They had it easy in the first half, but I think in the second half it was just two teams competing for points in the A-10. Points are so valuable. I thought it was a good, hard game.”

Looking forward, UMass will look to rebound from the loss on the road against La Salle on Saturday. A less dominant opponent than URI, this is a winnable game for the Minutemen if they come out with the defensive intensity they came out with Wednesday.

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