A slow start holds UMass men’s to 0-0 draw at VCU

Minutemen’s win streak ends at five

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By Jordan Meneo, Collegian Staff

The lights shined bright in Richmond Saturday night as the Massachusetts men’s soccer team kicked off conference play with a 0-0 draw against Virginia Commonwealth University.

Coming off a five-game win streak, UMass (5-0-2, 0-0-1 Atlantic 10) looked unstoppable. Heading into their first conference game, the Minutemen scored the second-most goals in the A-10. Junior forward Alec Hughes led the conference in goals, points and shots on goal. However, the hot streak came to a halt at VCU (0-3-3, 0-0-1 A-10) with a scoreless draw.

It was a physical, back and forth contest between the two A-10 rivals Saturday night. UMass appeared caught off guard in the first half as the Rams controlled possession for the majority of the first 45 minutes.

“It was sort of a game of two halves, I think the first half we were poor too often and we came second in everything,” Minutemen head coach Fran O’Leary said.

UMass came alive after halftime but was too late as it couldn’t get anything on the score sheet.

“We come away with mixed feelings,” O’Leary said. “A little frustrated that it took 45 minutes to make life difficult for them. [We are] a little disappointed that we didn’t take one of our chances and get three points.”

Despite controlling possession, VCU couldn’t put together many scoring opportunities. For most of the half, the conference foes felt each other out. Neither team posed a threat to the opposition’s goalie.

As the half went on the Rams started to pressure more and kept UMass on the back foot. The Minutemen scraped together some opportunities of their own, mostly off cleared balls. They were outplayed as the Rams finished the half with eight shots, three of which on goal.

However, the most concerning part of the half was not UMass’ lack of possession, it was the health of its goalkeeper. After retrieving a ball in between whistles, senior Matt Zambetti fell to the ground with a non-contact injury.

Following a brief meeting with the team’s trainers, who wrapped up his quad, it seemed Zambetti was good to continue. But after VCU came just inches away from the game’s first goal, Zambetti was taken out of the game.

Sophomore Alex Geczy replaced Zambetti. Geczy saw playing time in just one game this year, and he took the opportunity with no hesitation. The Pennsylvania native finished the game with three saves, including two beautiful diving saves in the second half.

“Give huge credit to [Geczy], he came in, was composed, and played with a maturity beyond his years,” O’Leary said. “He is a bright guy. He knows more about goalkeeping than I do.”

Coming back on the pitch in the second half, the Minutemen looked for an answer to the Rams’ defense that gave them issues. After Ryan Levay got handed a yellow card for unsporting, UMass found its rhythm. The Minutemen got their first shot of the half ten minutes in as Aidan Kelly nearly put it through the top of the net

While it wasn’t too dangerous, this shot seemed to get the ball rolling, as in the following eight minutes, UMass had six shots, two of which were on target. All momentum shifted towards the Minutemen, but they couldn’t find the net.

“The second half was night and day,” O’Leary said. “If you are going to influence the game you need the ball, and to get the ball you have to come first. That is what we began to do in the second half.”

UMass continued to pressure VCU to the very last second of the game. Nonetheless, it wasn’t enough for the win as time ran out filling the scoreboard with zeros.

“To come away with something from VCU is always good,” O’Leary said. “To get a point, we really feel we have kickstarted our campaign now. At least we have got something on the board.

The Minutemen return home on Tuesday when they face UMass Lowell. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Rudd Field.

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