UMass concedes a last-minute equalizer in 2-2 draw at Fordham

Screamers by Fournier and Yohena highlight an eventful night

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Kayla Wong/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Pedro Gray Soares, Assistant Sports Editor

It looked like a road win was all but secured for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team on a rainy Saturday night against Fordham, but the Minutemen let the three points slip away after a last-minute goal by the Rams.

The match had everything. Early and late goals, absolute screamers from long range, impressive saves and overall high-quality play by two Atlantic 10 foes unbeaten in conference play. But a spectacle doesn’t award three points and Fran O’Leary, the head coach of a still undefeated UMass (5-0-5, 0-0-3 A-10) team, knows it.

“Disappointed with the result given we’re 2-1 up with a couple of minutes to go and I just feel for our guys, I thought they were great, probably the best we’ve played all season,” O’Leary said. “I think we scored two terrific goals, and we had several chances to put the game away, unfortunately didn’t take them, but if we play like that the rest of the way we’ll be in for a very, very good season.”

Two world-class goals from long distance by the Minutemen headlined the draw. Star midfielder Evan Fournier opened the scoring in spectacular manner after just eight minutes of play. He curled in a shot from the edge of the box using the outside of his foot, placing it in the top right corner.

“The team started off with a great attitude, a great mentality on the road against a very experienced Fordham team,” O’Leary said. “I think they’re probably quite a bit older than us and I really felt we did great. Really pleased with the start.”

But the hosts didn’t let that get to them. Following UMass’ goal, Fordham (3-1-6, 1-0-2 A-10) entered 10 minutes of domination until Daniel Espeleta’s equalizer in the 30th minute. In that span, the Rams hit the crossbar once and forced goalkeeper Matt Zambetti to make three saves. Fordham outshot the Minutemen 15-12 in the game.

Along with his score, Fournier also assisted UMass’ second goal in the 75th minute, when he set up Shizu Yohena with a clever pass into the left half-space. Yohena then fired a rocket from far outside the 18-yard box that turned out to be one of the best goals of the season.

“Oh, it’s just fantastic,” O’Leary said about Yohena’s strike. “Shizu [Yohena] gave us a big boost off the bench. You’re always looking for strikers to come on and score, and he did that tonight. Both [Evan Fournier and Yohena’s goals] were like goal of the season, they were two very special goals, which got us a point, we wanted three, but they were two really special goals tonight, so all credit to Evan and Shizu.”

After Yohena’s goal, the Minutemen kept their cool and looked like they’d hold on to a significant conference win, but with just one minute left to play, Fordham slammed the door open.

Jakob Gesien, who had given UMass a fair share of trouble throughout the game, curled a shot beautifully into Zambetti’s top left corner. The keeper somehow got to it and sent it off the post, but to cap off a wild contest, Espeleta tapped in the leftovers for his second goal of the night and a 2-2 tie.

“It was a back-and-forth game,” O’Leary said. “You know, over the course that I thought were worth maybe the win, but that’s the game if we don’t finish off our chances and we let them in at the end, which is uncharacteristic for us because we’re usually very good at seeing out leads.”

The Minutemen had clear opportunities to put the game away earlier, including a missed tap-in from Fournier just by the edge of the 6-yard box, but couldn’t do so and it cost them two points.

Despite conceding two, Zambetti solidified his status as one of the A-10’s best with an impressive 4-save performance under the sticks.

“If you’re going to have a good season you need a very good goalkeeper, and we have one in Matt Zambetti,” O’Leary said. “So just another good performance from him tonight.”

UMass will face George Washington for another A-10 road match on Oct. 5. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

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