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 picks up crucial win over Dayton, 2-1

Alec Hughes scores game winner in final minute
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/ Daily Collegian

With under a minute remaining in Saturday’s game against Dayton and with the score tied 1-1, it looked like the Massachusetts men’s soccer team would fail to get the win it desperately needed to keep its Atlantic 10 tournament hopes alive.

However, with just 18 seconds left in the game, junior forward Alec Hughes scored a game winning goal to give UMass (7-3-7, 2-1-5 A-10) the stunning 2-1 win on their home field.

The Minutemen were seemingly playing from behind all game, with Dayton (9-2-4, 3-2-3 A-10) taking a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute after Forster Ajago scored a goal for the Flyers. UMass came into the game as underdogs, playing against one of the best teams in the conference and a team that was previously nationally ranked.

“So proud of our guys, we were up against a very very good team, you can see that they’re a nationally ranked team for a reason, they’ve lost one game all season,” head coach Fran O’Leary said. “To come from behind against a nationally ranked team in for us a must-win game, takes a lot of character and our guys showed a lot of character, a lot of heart, a lot of commitment to this.”

The Minutemen went into halftime down 1-0 but quickly scored in the second half to tie the game at one goal apiece after Shizu Yohena made a quality pass to Nick Zielonka for the goal in the 52nd minute.

“It gave us massive energy, especially being so quickly after the half it just boosted us for the rest of the game,” Zielonka said about the tying goal.

The goal was Zielonka’s sixth goal of the season, the second most goals by a Minutemen this season behind Alec Hughes.

“Great day for Zielonka, he’s just quietly chipped away and has got a lot of goals, and a lot of important goals and important assists,” O’Leary said. “It’s great for him, he deserves it. He’s had a terrific attitude throughout his whole career and he keeps getting better and better”

Dayton kept on attacking the UMass defense all game, showing its skill and athleticism on the field. The Flyers outnumbered the Minutemen in most statistical categories. Dayton led the game with 23 shots compared to UMass’ 13 and attempted 11 shots on goal compared to the Minutemen’s six.

For the UMass defense, headlined by goalie Matt Zambetti and defender Nathaniel Cardoza, it was one of the best games of their careers. Zambetti made many incredible saves, making eight in the game, tying his season high.

Cardoza was instrumental for the Minutemen defense, locking down the Dayton offense and making one unreal save in the 55th minute that prevented a goal that was centimeters from going into the net and giving Dayton the lead.

“I was just like, ‘I gotta get back in. I saw the ball getting back in, I was like I gotta make a play here if we want to stay in this,’” Cardoza said. “At the time they were pushing, I just had to do my part.”

The story of the game was ultimately Hughes’ game winner with 18 seconds remaining. In what was likely the last opportunity to score and keep the Minutemen’s  season alive, Hughes delivered on possibly the best goal of his college career. After the goal, UMass players were on the ground celebrating with Hughes.

“Overcome with emotion, I lowkey cried,” Cardoza said. “I was so happy with the effort that the guys put in that we could pull something off and [Hughes]  doing the work, working hard, being a defender, putting it in the back of the net. There’s no better joy than that.”

The Minutemen will now await other results around the A-10 to see if they will make it into the conference tournament that begins Friday Nov. 4.

Marco Lopez can be reached at [email protected].

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