UMass will face Virginia Tech on Saturday for a potential at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament

Minutemen ranked 15th in NCAA men’s soccer RPI

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Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

By Pablo Quiceno, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team will play the Virginia Tech men’s soccer team on Saturday at 5 p.m. The Minutemen (7-1-2, 3-1-2 Atlantic 10) will face their most formidable opponent yet in what will be their most crucial game of the season.

“We’re really excited I know it’s an incredibly tough game,” head coach Fran O’Leary said.

UMass could add an impressive win under its belt and undoubtedly strengthen, if not lock in, an at-large bid for the Minutemen in the NCAA tournament. A loss would make an NCAA Tournament appearance far-fetched.

The Minutemen sit at 15th in the country under the NCAA men’s soccer RPI (Rating Percentage Index). Under the United Soccer Coaches poll/rankings, UMass is presently not ranked.

On the flip side, the Hokies (6-6-2, 5-5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), are ranked 25th in the United Soccer Coaches poll/ranking and sit at 56th in the NCAA men’s soccer RPI.

With a mix of young and seasoned players and a well-balanced team on both sides of the ball, it seems like the Minutemen have a good shot at beating the Hokies. On the offensive side, UMass will look to players like Filippo Begliardi Ghidini, James McPherson, Yosuke Hanya, and Alec Hughes to have big games and impose their will early in the game like they have been all season. The Minutemen have 23 goals through ten games this season, which places UMass at 14th in the country with 2.30 goals per game average.

Defensively, the Minutemen will continue to rely on their strong physical defense. They are leaning on players like Logan Brown, Nathaniel Cardoza, and Evan Fournier. UMass hasn’t allowed its opponent to score over two goals this season.

“We’ll just tell our defenders, to win the penalty area, win the box because that’s where you get the first contact in the box,” O’Leary said. “That means we’re going to be able to defend set-pieces well, and just defend anything that comes in. So for [Marvyn Dorchin], it’s make a special save or two, and for our back four and everyone else, it’s get a first contact in the box.”

When opponents get through the Minutemen’s back wall, they have relied on the spine of Dorchin, their star goalkeeper. The senior goalie has 40 saves and ten goals allowed on the season. Dorchin also currently sits at 38th in the country among goalkeepers with a .800 save percentage, putting him among the upper echelon of goalkeepers.

Most importantly, Dorchin has kept UMass from losing or tying countless games this season with acrobatic one-handed saves.

“The law of averages says that Marv will be called upon to make one or two key saves,” O’Leary said. “Which he’s done fantastically in every game we’ve played.”

The ACC has been the best conference in men’s college soccer this season. The conference ranks first in goals with 238; the closest to that tally is the A-10 at 165. They also rank first in various other categories: assists, shot attempts, shot on goals, saves, goals allowed and shutouts.

Three of the teams listed in the top 25 (RPI) are in the ACC: Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest. The picture quickly changes when you head over to the United Soccer Coaches rankings: Pittsburgh is ranked first, Clemson fourth, Wake Forest sixth, North Carolina 15th, and Virginia Tech 25th. The Hokies beat North Carolina 1-0, lost to Pittsburgh and Clemson twice but pushed one game against each to double overtime.

“They had the number one draft pick overall in the MLS,” O’Leary said about Virginia Tech. “Their second-round draft pick has returned to school to play, he’s one of the top forwards in the country, and they’re just coming off shut-out road wins against UNC Chapel Hill and Notre Dame, they shut both of them out on the road. So we know will really have a handful against a team from the top soccer conference in the country.”

Some notable players this season for the Hokies are Kristo Strickler and Jacob Labovitz. Strickler was drafted 30th in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft to the Houston Dynamo. He was also named to second-team All-ACC in 2018 and 2019 and named to first-team All-ACC in 2021. Labovitz was named third-team All-ACC and leads the Hokies with seven goals on the season.

“I think we just go in and we just do what we’ve been doing,” O’Leary said. “We’ve only lost one out of ten games so there’s little to no point in changing anything right now. I think we go in and we have the courage to do the things we have been doing over the course of this season and we look to play our game.”

Pablo Quiceno can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @PabloSantiago00