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 men’s soccer defeats Providence 3-2

Nick Zielonka notches one goal and two assists in win
Kayla Wong
Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts men’s soccer team picked up its third win of the season in Providence on Saturday night, winning 3-2. Lightning in the area briefly delayed the first meeting between Providence (2-3-0) and UMass (3-1-1) since 1994.

The Minutemen led 2-0 early before Providence came back to tie the game at two apiece. Nick Zielonka’s game winner in the 76th minute secured the win and helped head coach Fran O’Leary earn his 300th career victory.

“So proud of the team to come to a very good Providence team,” head coach Fran O’Leary said. “We gave up a set piece early in the second half, they took over control of the game, scored a second. I thought we showed tremendous character to respond to that setback and score less than 50 seconds later.”

Zielonka led the way for the Minutemen in Providence, scoring the game winning goal on a play where Matt Cence’s initial shot was blocked in front of the goal. Zielonka got the deflected ball and scored into the bottom right corner of the net past four Friars.

“[Zielonka] was terrific,” O’Leary said. “He also had a free kick that bounced off the crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten. He has been terrific all season and his all-around play, his creativity, he’s assisted on several goals. He got a terrific goal tonight, could’ve had a second, very unlucky on that hitting the crossbar. All-around a terrific performance by [Zielonka].”

Zielonka was also heavily involved in playmaking in UMass’ win, as he has been all season, coming into the game tied for third in the country in total assists. He helped Aidan Kelly get on the board with a header in the third minute, scoring the first goal of his career.

“[Kelly is] dominant in the air,” O’Leary said. “Again, he’s threatening all the time, he’s a major threat on set-pieces. I think the moment it left his head, we knew it was hitting the back of the net. It was a powerful header, it was a great service by [Zielonka].”

Alec Hughes continued his offensive brilliance this season with his sixth goal of the season, shooting a shot into the roof of the goal off a header from Zielonka in the 13th minute to give the Minutemen a 2-0 lead. Coming into the game, Hughes was tied for first in the nation in total goals.

The Minutemen faced an offensive onslaught from the Friars through the night, with Providence attempting 11 shots on goal and 15 shots overall compared to UMass’ six and 13. The goaltending from Matt Zambetti was arguably his best of the season, making a season-high nine saves while also facing a season-high 15 shots. Zambetti sealed the Minutemen victory after saving a shot from Gevork Diarbian with three seconds remaining in the game.

“Zambetti was superb [Saturday]. He made several outstanding saves,” O’Leary said. “We were under a lot of pressure in the second half, they have a lot of quality players. We had guys throwing their bodies in front of balls, looking to get blocks, getting contacts in the box, doing all the dirty little things we needed to do to get the win. Couldn’t be more proud of our team”

Next up, UMass  heads back home for a game against Dartmouth on Tuesday Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. The match will be the final game before the Minutemen begin their important Atlantic-10 conference slate against Duquesne on Saturday.

“We’ll take a dose of confidence, and we’ve got to make sure that we get back down to work and get ready to go against a good Dartmouth team who are coming off a good win [Saturday],” O’Leary said.

Marco Lopez can be reached at [email protected].

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