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 continues its struggle to win in conference with 1-1 tie against St. Bonaventure

Minutemen have one win in six A-10 games
Shilpa Sweth / Daily Collegian

It’s hard to win conference games, and the Massachusetts men’s soccer team knows that better than most.

Despite UMass having just one loss in 14 games this season, including none in Atlantic 10 play, the Minutemen’s record (6-1-7, 1-0-5 A-10) exhibits the difficulty of racking up wins in a competitive conference.

“Obviously, it’s really hard [to win games in conference play],” UMass head coach Fran O’Leary said. “If you put the ball in the net, you take your chances — obviously we did that against George Washington, but the other games, you can say it’s a little bit of [a lack of] quality, a little bit of luck, we hit the post, but if it becomes a recurrent theme, we’ve got to improve our composure.”

On Saturday, UMass hosted St. Bonaventure, who sit dead last in the A-10 standings. It was a must-win game for the Minutemen, whose staggering number of ties in conference play only gets them to fifth place in the A-10 — having played one more game than everyone around them.

With just three conference games left in the schedule, a win at home against the Bonnies (3-8-3, 0-4-2 A-10) was crucial for UMass to secure a place in the A-10 tournament. However, even in a matchup as favorable as they come, the Minutemen failed to capitalize on their opportunities and tied 1-1.

“This game was actually a pretty big game,” UMass captain Nathaniel Cardoza said. “If we won this one, we would have been still top four [in the conference]. Right now, we’re either at top five or eight. We’re probably putting ourselves in a tiny bit of a hole, but we’re still contending for the playoffs, so we’re still in the race.”

St. Bonaventure came to Rudd Field with no conference wins and no hopes of making the tournament, but that didn’t mean it’d play a half-baked game. Instead, the Bonnies survived and left Amherst with a stolen tie.

The field tilted heavily in favor of the Minutemen all game long. The visitors barely touched the ball in the opposing half and created almost no dangerous chances throughout 90 minutes.

On the other hand, UMass racked up more high-quality opportunities than in any other game, but a shocking performance in front of goal, a total lack of composure, helped the Bonnies hold the Minutemen to a single point.

Early in the season UMass ranked first in the nation in shooting percentage, but that number has plummeted after it put 8-of-26 shots on target and got just one goal out of it. A full 90 minutes of domination doesn’t always reward a team with a win, especially when its finishing and first touches are sloppy like the Minutemen’s were.

In soccer, all it takes is one mistake to change the outcome of a game. It doesn’t matter how much control a team has over possession of the ball, or how many shots it takes. What really counts is one moment of brilliance — or one lapse in concentration — and the entire effort put forth after two halves is thrown into the bin.

For UMass, that came in the form of a goalkeeping mistake. After the hosts took the lead in the 15th minute, St. Bonaventure’s Umechi Akuazaoku tapped in a rebound after the ever-consistent keeper Matt Zambetti failed to secure a high ball at the back post.

“I mean today we had the hustle, we had the spirit, but we weren’t productive in the final third, where we needed to be most productive obviously, we had over 20 shots,” Cardoza said. “And obviously we hit the post, we hit the crossbar, but you just need a bit more quality in the final third. I thought defensively we were fine besides the one mistake which led to the goal, but we just got to learn from it and do better.”

Conference games are a different challenge. There’s an air of competitiveness and physicality that isn’t always present in non-conference matchups. Seven out of the top 10 teams in the A-10 have more draws than they do wins and losses. Every game matters.

Now, the Minutemen will have to face tougher teams than they’d like to claim a spot in the A-10 tournament, with at least one win being mandatory. First Davidson, then Dayton.

“Well, we’ll still be above the playoff line,” O’Leary said. “But I think to be certain we’re going to need probably –– a win and a tie will probably get us in, so we’ve got to just approach the next game and go and win it.”

Their next game is at Davidson, who currently sit in the bottom three of the conference. It will be another must-win contest for UMass. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22.

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

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