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 loses in final minutes at Holy Cross

Minutemen winless streak sits at three games
Kayla Wong
Daily Collegian (2023)

For most of the game it was what Fran O’leary, the head coach of the Massachusetts men’s soccer team, calls a “battle for controlled possession,” with neither UMass (3-3-2, 0-1-0) nor Holy Cross establishing control of the game. The Minutemen were the better team going into the matchup, but the Crusaders (2-4-2, 0-0-1) broke their hearts with a winning goal in the final minutes of a defensive battle, winning 1-0 on Tuesday night.

There were no shots on goal from either side until the 66th minute, and despite UMass pressuring Holy Cross towards the end of the game, it was the Crusaders who broke the deadlock with 4:03 left in the contest, and it was a beauty.

Evan Jones picked up the ball on the left flank, dribbled it up to the top of the 18-yard box and fired a rocket from outside the area straight into the top left corner, impossible for goalkeeper Matt Zambetti to stop. Minutemen players immediately dropped down to the ground, while the Crusaders all sprinted euphorically to the corner spot, some knee sliding, all piling up on one another.

“Obviously very disappointed to lose it late,” O’Leary said. “You know, I don’t know if we did enough to win but I don’t think we did enough to lose. Credit Holy Cross, they competed, they were definitely up for the fight. It was a good, competitive college game and we come away disappointed to give up a goal late.”

UMass has depended heavily on star striker Alec Hughes for goals this season. Going into the week he was among the nation’s leaders with seven goals in as many games, averaging 4.43 shots per game. But for the first time since Oct. 11, 2022 in a 3-0 loss against Vermont, Hughes finished a game without attempting a single shot.

Neutralizing Hughes in that manner was perhaps the key to the game for Holy Cross. At the same time, the Minutemen did a lot of the work themselves by constantly turning the ball over and failing to establish any controlled possession in midfield or combining effectively in the final third.

This marks UMass’ third straight game without a win, including two straight shutout losses away from home. It’s also the second time in three games that it conceded a crucial goal in the dying minutes of the game. The Minutemen have a three-game homestand up next to try and sort out finishing problems and focus up late in games.

“We’ve given away cheap goals and we’ve not taken our chances,” O’Leary said. “We had our chances again [Tuesday]. We’ve not taken our chances, so [we have to] just keep working. Teams will go through spells like this over the course of the season. Fortunately for us [this game] wasn’t a conference game, so we now have got to bounce back, we’ll find out a lot about our character. I think we have a confident group who believes in themselves, and now we’ve got to show it on Saturday against a very good [Virginia Commonwealth] team.”

“Every team goes through little periods, you know, and how they address it defines them and defines the season.”

The clearest chance of the game on either side came with 15 minutes left, when UMass defender Shane Velez received a first-time pass into the box from Ryan Levay which left him one-on-one with goalkeeper Tristan Stephani. The 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound goalie came out fast to close the angle and made a fantastic save to stop Velez’s attempt from the center of the box with his left arm. Stephani had a strong performance with four saves and a clean sheet.

As they have for most of the season, the Minutemen defense played well. All eight Holy Cross shots from inside UMass’ box were crucially blocked by the defense. Once again, Minuteman center back Aidan Kelly was the star of the backline. He won several aerial duels, swept away loose balls and commanded the defense while also being a threat in the opposition box through set pieces. Kelly attempted at least two shots in all but one game this season.

“[Kelly is] just a terrific central defender,” O’Leary said. “He’s dominant in the air, he’s composed on the ground, he’s got good leadership abilities. So we’re very lucky that he’s playing for us.”

UMass will be back at Rudd Field for a matchup against VCU on Saturday, Sept. 23 at noon.

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

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