UMass men’s soccer needs to win Saturday against Saint Joseph’s to keep its season alive

A win and certain results place the Minutemen in the conference tournament

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UMass men’s soccer needs to win Saturday against Saint Joseph’s to keep its season alive

Parker Peters

Parker Peters

Parker Peters

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

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History repeats itself for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team as it gears up to host Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.

Last season, the Minutemen (6-10, 2-5 Atlantic 10) finished eighth in the conference last season and snuck into the tournament following a seven-tiebreaker turnout in the results that miraculously saw them qualify. This season, UMass is in a similar position. If the chips fall a certain way, not quite as ludicrous as last year, the Minutemen will qualify for the tournament for the fifth straight season.

“You always want the last game to mean something,” coach Fran O’Leary said. “Obviously, this one means a lot because if you get three points, you stand a decent chance at making the playoffs. We just have to take care of things on our end, get the three points and see how the other things shake out.”

To do so, however, the Minutemen will need to beat a talented Hawks (5-11-1, 1-6 A-10) team that can do some damage offensively. St. Joe’s ranks fourth in the conference in average goals per game.

The attacking front of the Hawks is full of size and will put the UMass defense to work. Senior striker and leading goal-scorer Leon Maric is 6’5 and midfielder Garrett Lyons is 6’3. The Hawks certainly have some size to them that will play in their favor in set pieces and around the goal.

“They’re very explosive offensively,” O’Leary said. “They’re one of the leading scorers in the conference. There’s plenty of goals in St. Joe’s. We have to be on our toes. Our number one thing is that their front three are as dynamic as any front three. Where they’ve struggled is that they’ve conceded goals. Their attacking group is an impressive group.

“And they’re big. It’s a big team,” O’Leary continued. “They have guys who are 6’4, 6’5, 6’6 spread throughout the team. They’re going to be a threat on set pieces and they have some quality and we have to counteract that quality.”

Saturday’s game will also be Senior Day for UMass. A key player for the Minutemen as of late has been senior Christian Labeck. Labeck scored two goals against La Salle over the weekend and has been critical to UMass’ late season resurgence. His time with the program has been marred with inconsistency both on the field with his performances and off the field with the amount of minutes he’s been given.

Since his breakout performance against Yale, Labeck has taken his game to another level and has led the Minutemen offensively by giving them something they lacked in the final third this season: consistency.

“A couple of weeks ago I told myself, ‘You know what, you’ve only got a couple of weeks left, just leave it all out there. Play soccer like you were when you were growing up. Just have some fun and make stuff happen,’” Labeck said. “You can’t just walk through a game and not do anything and expect a good result. You just got to go out there, take people on, try to make stuff happen every single play and don’t take any of it for granted.”

Alongside Labeck, Ryan Saul, Jared McCleary, Richard Amoako, Yosuke Hanya and graduate student Eric Eberl will be honored.

Ryan Saul has been a consistent presence for the Minutemen on defense for his entire tenure with the program. Voted unanimously as captain this season, he has been the anchor for a UMass team that has only conceded an average of one goal a game, third best in the conference.

Yosuke Hanya was on pace to be one of the best players in the conference this year before a preseason injury sidelined him for the season. His time with the Minutemen may not end here but if it does, he will go down as one of the best wing players to grace the field for UMass due to his pace, his craftiness with the ball, and his technical abilities offensively.

Eric Eberl may have only been with the program for one season, but his impact was felt immediately. When Hanya went down with the injury, Eberl was slotted into his position and has played well when injuries haven’t caused him to miss games. He’s a gritty player and UMass would’ve been worse for wear if he wasn’t on the squad.

Jared McCleary and Richard Amoako are two players whose presence wasn’t felt on the field, but rather off of it. They have seen very limited minutes in their time with the program but have made an impact as leaders within this young group and liven up practices and team bonding moments.

Labeck will certainly be missed by the young group on the Minutemen. He’s a leader on the team and made the transition for the freshmen easier with his personality and by offering opportunities to hang out during the preseason.

“My first memory of Christian is him asking me to come over to his dorm in the preseason to play some Super Smash Bros,” freshman Quinn Serafino said. “He’s super welcoming, a great guy and a great leader. The team chemistry is great and it starts with them [Labeck and Saul].”

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Rudd Field on Saturday.

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