UMass’ season ends with 1-0 defeat to Saint Louis in A-10 tournament

Minutemen unable to get on the scoreboard with the absence of Alec Hughes

Daily+Collegian%2F+Sophie-Zoe+Schreyer

Daily Collegian/ Sophie-Zoe Schreyer

By Jordan Meneo, Collegian Staff

On a windy November night, the No. 8 seeded Massachusetts men’s soccer team looked to capture its first Atlantic 10 postseason win since it won the tournament in 2018, as it faced the No. 1 seeded Saint Louis. Ultimately, the Billikens’ (11-4-1, 6-1-1 A-10) defense proved too strong as UMass (7-4-7, 2-2-5 A-10) fell 1-0 to put the 2022 season to rest.

“[I’m] just extremely proud of the effort the guys gave tonight,” UMass head coach Fran O’Leary said.

The biggest setback Friday night for the Minutemen was the absence of their scoring machine, Alec Hughes. The junior forward was unable to play due to receiving his fifth yellow card in the win over Dayton the previous week. The card was given after Hughes put away a game-winner that would send UMass to the conference tournament. After the goal, Hughes took his shirt off in celebration prompting the official to book him leading to a one-game suspension.

Hughes went on a tear this season, finishing with a conference-leading 10 goals as well as securing the conference’s only hat trick of the season.

“It’s obviously going to have an impact if you have the leading scorer in the conference and one of the leading scorers in the country out for a game against a top team,” O’Leary said. “I think it’s fair to say [Hughes] would’ve had a significant impact.”

Ultimately, the match would be decided four minutes after kickoff. After earning a corner kick, St. Louis’ John Klein delivered a beautiful cross to the front of the goal where CJ Coppola headed it home into the back of the net. The Billikens were able to ride the 1-0 lead in large credit to their consistent passing in the midfield and steady control of possession.

St. Louis’ dominance in controlling the ball was evident when looking at the first half in which they outshot the Minutemen 13-1. UMass goalkeeper Matt Zambetti was forced into action making five first-half saves.

However, coming out of the half, the Minutemen looked like a different team. Forward Nick Zielonka consistently broke through the Billiken backline and the script was flipped as UMass outshot St. Louis 10-5.

The discrepancy in shots didn’t show up on the scoreboard as the Minuteman could not deliver the ball past the Billiken keeper. They weren’t without their fair share of chances, however. UMass had multiple occasions where it seemed a goal was inevitable, including a free kick that ended in the back of the net before being called off due to goalkeeper interference.

“Soccer can be cruel. You can put in a big effort and not get a reward,” O’Leary said.

As the clock ticked down, the tensions between the two conference foes came to a head. While going to collect the ball for a throw-in, UMass’ Aidan Kelly pushed a St. Louis bench player to the ground for kicking the ball away. Kelly was booked with a yellow card for the incident.

While the final whistle has blown for the 2022 season, it was far from a forgettable year for the Minutemen. They set a program record with a 12-game undefeated run to open the season. In addition to the streak, UMass made the A-10 tournament for the first time since 2018 despite having a mostly new team after losing seven starters last year.

“I think for a team with so many new players I think just their togetherness, their comradery, their willingness to work for each other, and their brave mentality, I think those are the things I’ll take away,” O’Leary said.

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