Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s soccer 2022 season preview

Notable roster turnaround marks the beginning of a new year
Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

Last season the Massachusetts men’s soccer team finished with an 8-4-5 overall record, a 2-2-4 record in Atlantic 10 play, and missed out on the conference tournament by the skin of its teeth.

This season, head coach Fran O’Leary and the Minutemen will have a steep hill to climb to get back into the A-10 tournament. Many of their most talented players are gone, and the number of incoming freshmen is substantial. This means O’Leary will manage a less experienced team full of holes to plug and talents to develop.

“We have a young, young group but I think there’ll be a lot of upside and we’ll just try and make them better,” O’Leary said. “We may take some bumps along the way as we chip the inexperience away, but if the older guys continue to show the leadership they’ve shown so far, and the young guys keep up the attitude they’re displaying I think we could surprise a few people.”

It will be difficult to roll into the new season with the same tactics and style of play as last year, given that the new players might turn out to have different profiles than those who departed. Therefore, it’s essential for O’Leary to innovate with tactics and find combinations of players who can quickly develop chemistry.

Tough goodbyes

Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

Out of UMass’ top 11 players in total minutes last season, seven left the team –– about two-thirds of the starting group.

Most notably, the four players who started all 17 games for the Minutemen last season are all gone, and they were arguably the most important players on the team: Italian striker Filippo Begliardi Ghidini, Japanese ace Yosuke Hanya, French keeper Marvyn Dorchin, and central defender Graham Brenner.

Begliardi Ghidini and Hanya were widely regarded as the stars of the team, the former leading the squad in goals with eight and the latter in assists with five. Both have now signed professional contracts.

Other significant losses include Brenner’s partner at the back, Logan Brown, who was fourth in the team in total minutes; Tyler Mann, a midfielder who appeared in every game; and Drew Lovely, who started at the back with Brenner and Brown. A departure that could go under the radar is London native Joe Leslie, a sophomore. Despite ranking just 17th in the team in total minutes, Leslie scored the second most goals (four), averaging a goal every 102 minutes played.

What’s important for the team, however, isn’t focusing on the big names who left, but on those who will step up in their absence.

Familiar faces

Just because a considerable number of starters left, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any high-level players left in the UMass roster. In fact, there are some promising, impactful returning faces whom O’Leary trusts to take the next step.

“There’s sort of a freshness, a new energy to the team,” O’Leary said. “I think there will be a hunger – some of our returning guys who didn’t feature very prominently are now going to seek to gain really prominent roles in the team. So, I think they are hungry to carry on the traditions of UMass soccer.”

Among them is junior striker Alec Hughes. As a freshman two years ago, he was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and an All-Atlantic 10 First-Team selection after scoring seven goals, good for 20th in the nation.

Last year Ghidini was under a brighter spotlight, but Hughes still finished with three goals and two assists. With the Italian now out of the picture, Hughes headlines the Minuteman offense, especially in a roster with only one more designated striker –– incoming freshman Sefunmi Taiwo, who’ll have a fairly direct path to playing time.

UMass’ campaign ended early last season due to a lack of goalscoring; it failed to find the back of the net in four of its last five conference games. Considering the Minutemen lost their top two scorers in the offseason, this group of attackers will perhaps be the one which needs to step up the most.

Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

The midfield is UMass’ deepest, most experienced and established position group on the team. Redshirt senior Tommy Case and senior Ryan Levay appeared in every game last season, while juniors Mike Willis and Jack Englebert, along with 6-foot-4 senior Evan Fournier also played major roles. Fournier also has experience on defense, which creates a major opportunity for a starting spot.

Andrew Ortiz and Japan native Shizu Yohena both attained playing time as freshmen and look set to play a bigger role.

“Our midfield will be quite experienced, with Andrew Ortiz having come off a great spring,” O’Leary said. “He’s a player we’re very excited about.”

Competition for starting positions in the midfield will be tight, and the upperclassmen must use their leadership to bring the team together and guide the three freshmen coming in at the position.

“I think the key for us, we’ll look at several players and, really, the players pick the team based on their performance,” O’Leary said. “If they’re in and they perform well they’ll stay in; if somebody else comes off the bench and excels it’s only fair to give them more minutes. That’s the nature of competition.”

“It’s going to be a young, young group. And that’s why the leadership of the upperclassmen is going to be of paramount importance if we’re going to do anything this year.”

Defensively, team captain Nathaniel Cardoza is the only major returning presence. As a graduate student and fifth-year player, he’ll be a key leader of the team and of an almost entirely new backline.

“You look at the guys who played a lot, I think you start at the back, one of our captains is Nate Cardoza,” O’Leary said. “[Cardoza] is a fifth-year senior, he’s been so reliable and he’s sort of our foundation, so it’s great to have him.”

New on the block

O’Leary has a deep recruiting class to work with in 2022. It consists of nine players –– two transfers and seven freshmen.

“It’s a really good class and I must give huge credit to our coaching staff,” O’Leary said. “Ben Brewster, Jacob [Reimers] have done a terrific job in putting the class as talented as this together.”

Senior goalkeeper Matt Zambetti transferred in from Virginia Tech, and defender Jack Anderson is joining the Minutemen as a sophomore transfer from Syracuse. Both will have to a chance to contribute right away as they are older and more experienced than the competition at their position.

Three freshmen complete the list of defensive acquisitions. Nicholas Wilson, A.J. Cucinotta and Aidan Kelly. A Belfast, Northern Ireland native, Kelly comes in with a strong résumé: five international caps and the team captaincy with the Northern Ireland under-18 team.

“Any time you come into a team where there’s seven open starting positions it leads to a vibrant preseason camp,” O’Leary said. “There’s a lot of guys pushing and are very close, it’s been a really good preseason … The new guys have been terrific, great attitude.”

“All of them are doing a good job right now. They’ve found their way to the dining room, they’re being on time, they’re able to get dressed by themselves in the morning, so they’ve done a really good job at adapting.”

But the new faces on campus aren’t limited to squad players. Back in mid-March, UMass announced the addition of former Longwood keeper turned assistant coach Jacob Reimers to its coaching staff for the 2022 season. With the exit of Ryan Hulings, Reimers will serve as the Minutemen’s goalkeeper coach. New volunteer assistant Mack Walton also joins UMass’ coaching staff after a successful four-year playing career at Clarkson.

“We lost Ryan Hulings a little under a year ago,” O’Leary said. “[Reimers] came in and has done a terrific job, grabbed the bull by the horn in the early spring, has garnered quickly the respect of our goalkeeping crew. [Walton] is coming in as a volunteer assistant and has brought an energy, and sometimes he’s one of our better players at practice, he’s a very fine player. So, it’s great to have the energy they bring about the place.”

Schedule, aims & expectations

UMass often starts its seasons with a tough non-conference schedule, and this year is no different. Along with rivalry games against Boston College, Boston University and UMass Lowell, the Minutemen will have the opportunity to face reigning national champions Clemson on October 24th.

“We’ve got to outwork and out-think our opponents,” O’Leary said. “Any of the sides may have some more technically gifted players, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re a collective. If we can get every all 25 of us thinking, moving, talking, working, supporting in the same way, we’ve got a chance. If we’re not a collective, we’ll have a very difficult time.”

To start off its 17-game campaign, UMass will travel in-state to face Northeastern on Thursday, August 25th. It’ll be the fourth year in a row the Minutemen open their season against the Huskies.

“What we’ll try and do is, we’ll obviously put a team on the field against Northeastern that we feel best positions us to win that game,” O’Leary said. “And we’ll study the data over a number of games and then come up with the best team for the conference league when it starts.”

Despite barely missing the conference tournament with a talented squad, expectations haven’t lowered at Rudd Field.

“I think if we get better, if our players improve along the way, if we have fun, that’s sort of our culture statement,” O’Leary said of what would mean a successful season. “I think a realistic goal is to make the A-10 playoffs while harboring ambitions to finish high in the league and make a run in the tournament.”

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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