Meneo: UMass men’s soccer has found its identity

Minutemen rack up 19 fouls, aggressive play style leads to win over Blue Devils

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Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

By Jordan Meneo, Collegian Staff

Bad boys. That is what the Massachusetts men’s soccer team has become; and it should be thrilled. Through four games, the Minutemen (3-0-1) have combined for 56 fouls and seven yellow cards. In that same time, however, UMass has outscored its opponents 12-3.

In Wednesday night’s 4-2 victory against Central Connecticut State, that in-your-face style of play was on full display. The Blue Devils (2-2) were on the opposing end of a staggering 19 fouls. To add some sprinkles on top, the Minutemen also threw in four yellow cards as well as a red.

It became clear early in the match that Central Connecticut did not know how to handle UMass’s aggressiveness. Not even five minutes into the match, junior forward Alec Hughes drew a penalty leading to a quick UMass goal. Less than a minute later, Hughes was back again. While rushing at the opposing goalkeeper, Hughes was able to take advantage of a botched pass and sliced the ball into the side of the net for a quick 2-0 UMass goal.

From then on out, the Minutemen applied full pressure, and why not? Every time the defense pressed, the Blue Devils looked visibly panicked. Safe to say this plan of attack worked as the defense was suffocating providing freshman defender Alex Brown the opportunity to put one in net.

UMass had itself locked in the driver’s seat from that point on. While two goals were scored for CCSU, it was clear that the Minutemen’s defense did not allow for any momentum to be gained.

Yet one of the goals did leave a bad taste in senior goalie Matt Zambetti’s mouth. After being tripped up on a run, Blue Devil Birk Martinsen was able to put one through for the penalty goal. After getting up from the failed save, Zambetti slapped his hands and punted the ball out of frustration. While getting scored on surely is not ideal for team morale, Zambetti’s reaction was sure to fire up the Minutemen, and it did just that. Coming out of the half, sophomore Andrew Ortiz blasted one to the back of the net to regain a three-goal lead.

As the game carried on, freshman defender Aidan Kelly got booked with a red card after already receiving a yellow just five minutes prior. The ejection immediately led to a Central Connecticut goal. UMass was able to see the rest of the game out and kept their two-goal lead until the final whistle.

While the aggressive defense certainly stole the show Wednesday, do not let that fool you. The Minutemen’s offense was firing on all cylinders. Head coach Fran O’Leary’s squad finished with seven of 11 shots on goal. Hughes also had a huge game finishing with four of his five shots on target.

Yet it was not the defense that was the biggest takeaway from the match, nor was it the offensive production. It was the reactions the Minutemen received. Nearly every minute opposing fans could be heard yelling at players and refs alike. Whether it was something they felt was dirty, or a card not being pulled out of a referee’s pocket, it was clear how the crowd felt about UMass. This is when the Minutemen found their true identity, they were villains.

Like any Duke basketball player or Isiah Thomas to Michael Jordan, the bad guy mentality is a strong one. While not on a stage of that magnitude, UMass certainly fits the model. Whether it is constantly arguing with the referee, or not caring how much contact is made with an opponent going for a header, it does not matter. The only thing that matters is getting the win.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the 2022 Minutemen, the bad boys of Division I soccer.

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