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 makes a comeback to tie UMass Lowell 3-3 at home

For the first time ever, the Minutemen start the season unbeaten after eight games
Shilpa Sweth/Daily Collegian (2021)

Pouring rain, late goals, and broken records defined a thrilling 3-3 derby between the Massachusetts men’s soccer team and in-state rival UMass Lowell on Tuesday.

With the absence of head coach Fran O’Leary, associate head coach Ben Brewster stepped into the task of leading the Minutemen (5-0-3, 0-0-1 Atlantic 10) against the River Hawks (1-4-2). The Minutemen got off to a strong start with an early goal.

UMass Lowell soon answered with two of its own in a span of 30 seconds. In the second half, UMass scored early again, and in the last six minutes, both teams scored to conclude the back-and-forth draw. This result meant the Minutemen remained undefeated eight games into the season for the first time in their history.

“I thought today, we’re obviously without our head coach Fran O’Leary, and he gives us a lot of structure and leadership,” UMass midfielder Ryan Levay said. “But I think at the start, we were on and then missing our head coach, we kind of lacked our structure and our formation and were kind a little bit all over the place, coming second in the air and we’re always first in the air. But I mean, we battled back and we got a tie.”

The first half was a constant battle for the ball, with no side sustaining control of the game. Duels and second balls quickly became the focus of each team, and playing from the back almost seemed taboo.

Levay played a major role in the game as a duel-winning machine on the right sideline for the Minutemen, physical both on the ground and through the air.

“When it’s a duel, we call it the battle for controlled possession, so you have to win the battle to then get controlled possession of the ball,” Brewster said. “We did that very well in the second half. Maybe lacked a little –– we still created chances, especially on set pieces, but maybe lacked the final ball at times.”

In the 10th minute, Matt Fordham put in a cross towards sophomore midfielder Andrew Ortiz, who towered over his defender and headed the ball in from the back post for an early lead. Another 10 minutes later, Lowell’s Borna Miklic answered with a header from a perfectly placed cross.

Just three minutes later, the visitors took the lead in a play that almost mirrored the previous goal, only it came from the left side –– which the River Hawks tried to exploit all game long –– and Javier Torres headed it in.

Both goals by Lowell came on mistakes that are rare for the Minutemen, partly because of the absence of O’Leary. The injury-related absence of starting goalkeeper Matt Zambetti, who was having an impressive performance in the season so far, could have also played a role.

Sophomore backup Alex Geczy stepped in, but the chemistry with his backline was weak. Lowell had two shots on target in the first half, and both ended in the back of the net.

After the break, UMass came back on the field as a different team. Its physicality leveled up and it established full control of the pitch behind a duel-winning recital.

“That’s something that we’re big on,” Levay said. “Win your headers, win your tackles, pass it to someone in the same-colored shirt, it’s kind of like our basis,” Levay said. “We’re one of the hardest working groups. We don’t have the most talented, but we always outwork. So [physicality is] kind of our basis.”

The Minutemen’s early pressure was rewarded with a goal 10 minutes into the half. Nick Zielonka’s corner kick found Fordham, who headed it in to tie the game. Once again, set pieces and balls into the box proved deadly for visitors to Rudd Field.

When the River Hawks snatched the lead again in the 84th minute off another cross-to-header scenario, UMass’ unbeaten run seemed to have come to an end. However, the Minutemen found a gap and Levay took it, placing a shot from inside the box into the bottom left corner 30 seconds after Lowell scored.

UMass outshot UMass Lowell 15-6 and racked up a staggering 19 corners in the game.

The Minutemen will host Duquesne on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Dukes will be ranked in the matchup, the biggest test for UMass so far, and O’Leary’s squad will look to remain unbeaten.

“I mean, going into my senior year, it’s been an amazing season,” Levay said regarding the strong start to the year. “I think the main difference between teams I’ve been on the past, it’s just we’re really united this year. You know, we all get along. We all love each other. We’re family. And that’s kind of helped us push through games and when you’re exhausted, because we do it for each other.”

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

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