Minutemen earn thrilling victory over UMass Lowell with two late goals

Levay and Hughes score in final 10 minutes to break tie

Nina+Walat%2FDaily+Collegian

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Richard Rodgers, Collegian Staff

After earning three-straight shoutout wins to open up its season, the Massachusetts men’s soccer team was put to the test against a talented UMass Lowell team on Thursday night. The Minutemen (4-0) were able to dig deep when it mattered late in the match, recording a 4-2 victory.

After an early River Hawks (0-3, 0-10 America East) goal scored by freshman forward Reziq Banihani, the Minutemen seized momentum for a lengthy stretch of the game. The Minutemen had twelve shots and two goals scored by junior forward Tyler Mann and midfielder Ben Shepherd by the end of the half.

“It was a remarkable shot total in the first half given we’re playing a very good team. To put twelve shots up against Lowell is unique and unusual,” UMass head coach Fran O’Leary said. “They came strong in the second half because they’re a good team.”

The tides did start to turn quickly after the start of the second half. Junior forward Damian Attidore found the back of the net in the 53rd minute to even the match at two. After struggling through a close half, freshman forward Alec Hughes broke the tie for the Minutemen. Then, junior defenseman Graham Brenner sealed the deal making it 4-2 in the 85th minute of the match.

“I’m very pleased with result and the performance. Lowell is a very talented team…and probably our toughest test to date,” O’Leary said. “When you play a good team, you get weaknesses exposed. What wasn’t exposed was our mentality which I thought was superb. We suffered the disappointment of going down a goal, didn’t drop our heads, wrestled some control in the game, went ahead, had the disappointment again of being brought back to 2-2, and just maintained the strong, mature mentality. I was very interested to see if we could take a punch…We took a couple tonight and kept on going.”

While the Minutemen can’t be anything but thrilled with their 4-0 start, they understand that some of the team’s weaknesses have now been revealed. There are plenty of improvements that will need to be made if UMass expects to keep winning as they prepare to face Atlantic-10 competition.

“There’s a lot of things we can improve on,” O’Leary said. “I think our collective defending let us down on a couple of occasions, so we’ll work to address that. We pressed them well at times and other times they got out. There’s a lot of good things, but as with all things in life we can get better.”

As far as standout players are concerned so far this season, Mann has been very impressive as tonight’s goal marked his second of the young season. Mann has made steady improvements through his career and looks to have a strong season going forward.

“He’s a very good player,” O’Leary said. “He’s technically gifted. He’s comfortable. He makes quick decisions, and he’s added a physical side to his game that we hadn’t seen in the past in terms of the amount of ground he covers. He’s scored two terrific goals for us now but has become much more of an all-around midfielder. His contributions to date have been immense.”

The Minutemen are off to a roaring start but things won’t get any easier as they enter conference play. Their next match will be at home against La Salle at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Richard Rodgers can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RichardDRodgers.