Meneo: Takeaways from UMass’ season opening draw against Northeastern

Minutemen rack up 15 fouls over the course of the game

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Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

By Jordan Meneo, Collegian Correspondent

The season opener could not have come sooner for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team (0-0-1) who faced a disappointing ending to last year. UMass finished the year with an overall record of 8-4-5, with a 2-2-4 record in the Atlantic 10, missing the conference tournament.

The Minutemen are ready to get back on track this season and had a promising start against Northeastern (0-0-1), a team who made the Colonial Athletic Association tournament last season. Although ending with a 1-1 draw, there is a lot to build on for a UMass squad who faced a lot of adversity this offseason.

Aggressive play

Like a DMX song blasting through the speakers, UMass came out aggressive. The players were flying around the pitch taking any opportunity they saw to gain possession of the ball. This aggressive style bode well for UMass. Even though the Minutemen were unable to find the back of the net, they had four out of five shots on goal in the first half, two of which would have gone in had it not been for tremendous goalkeeping from Northeastern’s Colby Hegarty. Additionally, the Huskies were held to just two shots for the half, none of which were on goal.

The Minutemen’s offensive play did not come without its consequences as they finished the first half with 11 fouls. The aggression continued the rest of the game, but was not as dominant as the first, allowing the Huskies to have seven second half shots including a goal.

Promising young talent

The difference between this year’s roster and last is drastic with the loss of seven key players. Therefore, UMass head coach Fran O’Leary must be able to trust his underclassman. While there were not a lot of them, the underclassmen who did play looked very promising. Freshman Aidan Kelly was one of only three players to play the entire 90 minutes. The Belfast native served as the anchor of the UMass defense.

Another player who stayed out for the entire 90 minutes was sophomore Matt Fordham. After appearing in just two games last season, it was an impressive sign to see the defender out on the pitch for the whole game.

Shizu Yohena had three shots, including one on goal in his 69 minutes of play. Those three shots already make up half of his total last year.

Veteran leadership

While there is a lot of promise for the young blood of UMass, do not think that the Minutemen’s previous stars have disappeared. Junior Alec Hughes, one of the Minutemen’s best goal scorers, led the team in shots with four along with their only assist. Hughes entered UMass with a bang after winning A-10 Rookie of the Year thanks to scoring seven goals. Since then, he has been a bright spot for O’Leary’s squad.

Along with Hughes was Ryan Levay who totaled three shots, all on goal. The senior midfielder appeared in all 17 games last season and will look to continue that consistency this year.

New faces draw questions

Along with Kelly, the fans saw three other players on the pitch wearing maroon and white for the first time. The most important was senior goalie Matt Zambetti. Zambetti transferred to UMass this summer after playing three seasons at Virginia Tech.

Thanks to a stellar first half by the Minutemen, Zambetti did not have to do much thanks to the squad’s defense allowing no shots on goal. In the second half, however, things started to pick up. The Pennsylvania native let in just the second shot on goal for Northeastern. Zambetti appeared to react too late on a ball that appeared savable. Fortunately for the Minutemen, Zambetti only had to face one more shot on goal that he saved.

Fans also saw the debut of freshman Sefunmi Taiwo. However, in the 25 minutes of playing time he saw he drew a yellow card. Although it’s not a fantastic debut, this was Taiwo’s first collegiate game and should not be looked into too much.

The last of the newcomers was freshman Aaron O’Malley, a midfielder who saw ten minutes of playing time. Like Taiwo, there was not much to talk about in O’Malley’s debut and most likely O’Leary just wanted to get the freshman’s feet wet.

Jordan Meneo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JordanMeneo.