UMass hosts Boston University in clash between undefeated teams on Saturday

Minutemen look to keep their 3-game winning streak alive

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Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Assistant Sports Editor

A promising matchup between two undefeated Massachusetts schools awaits on Saturday, as the UMass men’s soccer team will face Boston University.

The Minutemen (3-0-1) are coming off three wins in a row in which they’ve outscored their opponents 11-2. As a young team with an offseason full of squad turnaround, enjoying such a hot start to the season heavily influences the players’ confidence going into their biggest test yet.

“I think as a team, we’re really confident right now,” UMass star midfielder Evan Fournier said. “Starting like this is always a good thing, but we’re definitely careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves and take it game by game, because like I said we just try to improve every game. So, I think we’re in a good mindset for that.”

As far as records go, the Terriers (2-0-2) don’t seem to have the most impressive numbers, but a shutout win over No. 9 New Hampshire shows how tough of an opponent they are. Despite not scoring multiple goals in any game this season, BU also haven’t conceded multiple goals in any outings.

“[The Terriers are] very talented, we’ve looked at them on film, they’re very comfortable on the ball, they’ve got the athleticism and they’re technically gifted,” head coach Fran O’Leary said. “So, it will be a real challenge for us to get something out of this game.”

The high press will continue to be the identity of the O’Leary-led Minutemen for the foreseeable future. It’s worked wonders against the opponents they’ve faced so far, but BU is at a technical level they haven’t seen yet. It has enough talent and skill on the ball to beat the UMass press and build from the back. Another option for the Terriers is to go long with the ball and try to win the subsequent duels to get advanced field position.

“It’s something we focus on, being able to press teams,” O’Leary said. “But we also got to know that some teams won’t allow us to press them, so they may go over the press and then we’ve got to be strong enough to win what we call the battle for controlled possession. We have to be able to make sure we win the first and second balls.”

Winning duels gets much easier when the fans are behind the players giving them energy, that’s why it’s important that this is a home game for the Minutemen. In its 3-0 home win against Boston College on Saturday, Sept. 3rd, UMass hosted 1,811 spectators, its largest crowd since 2017, and the players couldn’t get enough of it.

“I think we’re all a bit surprised when we saw that [crowd] because we’ve never had anything like that here,” Fournier said. “So just like even when we were warming up, it felt like we were like ‘what’s going on here,’ but it definitely has a huge impact. There are fans lined up all around the side everywhere. And so, when you’re playing you can hear them, you can sort of feel them, you make a good play and you feel that support coming on.

“It definitely helps us a lot, and having those fans there is like so crucial. So, I hope we can for this next game. We can have a lot of fans there and for the remainder of the season.”

Along with Fournier, a Belchertown native, UMass has had another star take the spotlight as a leading figure of the offense: former Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year Alec Hughes. The striker has contributed three goals and two assists in four games. His clinical nature in front of goal has helped rank the Minutemen second in the nation in shot accuracy with 71-percent of its attempts landing on target.

“I just try to put myself in the right spot, try to every time so it makes it easier for people to play the ball to me, and usually most of my finishes come off one touch finishes really close into the net,” Hughes said.

Against BU’s stout defense, it’s crucial that Hughes and company maintain their sharpness and take what they can get, as the Terriers don’t simply give opposing offenses quality chances to score.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Rudd Field.

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