UMass’ new faces look strong through nine games

After losing starters in the offseason, the Minutemen look as strong as ever

Collegian+File+Photo+%282022%29

Collegian File Photo (2022)

By Jordan Meneo, Collegian Staff

Coming into the 2022 season there were lots of question marks surrounding the Massachusetts men’s soccer team.

After missing the Atlantic 10 tournament last season, the Minutemen (5-0-4, 0-0-2 A-10) said goodbye to seven reliable starters. In response to the losses, head coach Fran O’Leary brought in nine new faces to the roster.

But with that many new additions, there was uncertainty around how the team would play together. Now UMass remains undefeated after nine games for the first time in program history, in large part thanks to the contributions of these newcomers.

“I think we have really good chemistry which translates to results,” junior forward Alec Hughes said.

To many in soccer, a team can only go as far as its goalie will take them. Hence, the loss of French keeper Marvyn Dorchin this offseason looked scary for the Minutemen. Dorchin had five clean sheets last year, allowing approximately one goal a game.

With big shoes to fill, UMass brought in Matt Zambetti from Virginia Tech. The senior keeper picked up where Dorchin left off. In eight games, Zambetti allowed five goals and collected four clean sheets.

However, Zambetti’s season hit a speedbump against Virginia Commonwealth University. Towards the end of the first half, he hit the ground with a non-contact quad injury. The Pennsylvania native missed the remainder of the game and the next one against UMass Lowell.

His return came Saturday against Duquesne. Heading onto the pitch, the Dukes (6-0-2, 1-0-1 A-10) were ranked No. 25 in the nation. The Minutemen keeper shut them out to collect his fourth clean sheet.

“Zambetti has a good presence,” Associate head coach Ben Brewster said. “He’s had a great season so far, he’s been a great addition.”

The Minutemen’s newly-acquired freshmen have also contributed from the jump. Leading the way is Aidan Kelly. Kelly came to UMass from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he was captain of Northern Ireland’s under-18 team. To this point in the year, he has been a staple in the Minutemen back line.

Kelly has started all eight games he’s been available for, missing one due to a red card suspension. The defender puts his physicality on full display on corner kicks as he clears the ball with ease. He’s also played a large role in the high press that UMass uses so often; him and the press are a big reason that the Minutemen average less than one opposing goal a game.

Another freshman making an impact is midfielder Matt Cence. After winning the MVP of the 2021 Class LL Connecticut tournament, Cence took his talents to Amherst. The midfielder has been a solid option for UMass. He has started four games this year and appeared in all but one. His first collegiate goal came in his second start for the Minutemen against Boston College. Cence has seen the pitch for 312 minutes through nine games.

“The freshmen have come in and done great,” Brewster said.

UMass’ strong start means it currently holds the third-best overall record in the conference. With a plus-12 goal difference, the Minutemen are currently on pace to score 37 goals this year while only giving up 15. Zambetti, Kelly, and Cence have all played their role in this historic run.

UMass will face off against Vermont at 7 p.m. Tuesday as the Minutemen kick off their three-game road trip.

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