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 shows out in 3-0 home win over Yale

Alec Hughes nets another brace, up to five goals in three games
Kayla Wong
Daily Collegian (2023)

This is what it can look like when everything comes together for a team. A packed home crowd at Rudd Field enjoyed it, including new Chancellor Javier Reyes. The Massachusetts men’s soccer team’s 3-0 win over Yale on Monday was the culmination of the play style head coach Fran O’Leary has established.

It marked the 14th straight unbeaten game at home for the Minutemen (2-1-1), who haven’t lost in Amherst since September of 2021. The win came behind three impressive goals and a rock-solid defensive performance.

The team absorbed pressure without allowing quality chances and hit hard on the counter attack, controlling the game through chaos and physicality.

“It was a terrific bounce back win for us coming off a disappointing loss to Brown where we felt we created enough chances to win the game but didn’t take them,” O’Leary said. “Today against a very good Yale team, ironically probably created less chances and scored three goals, but that’s soccer. To get a clean sheet against Yale on Rudd and to score three [is] really good.”

Alec Hughes built upon his red-hot start to the season by netting twice against the Bulldogs (0-2-0), raising his season total to five goals in three games. The senior striker opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a composed finish low to the left, after UMass’ press recovered the ball and Andrew Ortiz found him in the box.

Hughes completed his brace in the 82nd minute after an effective team effort. Matt Cence got out of pressure on the right side before switching it to Bryant Keeney on the left. Keeney pinged it to Nick Zielonka in the box, who cleverly dropped it off with a header to Hughes, and the striker roofed it with a first-time volley.

“I just tried to get myself in the right spots,” Hughes said. “I mean, I could have had a few more today, but obviously didn’t put them away. The two goals I had was mostly just standing in the right spot and a teammate finds me, and I just either two-touch it in the back of the net, and the second one was a one-touch [finish].”

Another standout performer was Hughes’ partner in attack,  Zielonka, who plays as a creative hub behind Hughes. Zielonka finished the game with two assists.

In the 75th minute, he assisted the second goal of the game with a cross off a set piece on the left for defender Brad Moccio to head in. Then in the 82nd he set up Hughes’ finish for the third goal.

“I think it works well because I make the runs in behind and [Zielonka is] a very good technical player, so he’s a very good passer,” Hughes said. “You could see it on the second goal and then obviously he had the IQ to head it down on the third goal. He has a very good IQ and technical ability, which I think helps because he sets me up a lot.”

Yale started the game strong, forcing UMass goalkeeper Matt Zambetti to make a big save in the eighth minute of the game and the Minutemen defense to clear dangerous balls in the box. The Bulldogs played right through UMass’ press and quickly neutralized any attempt at a counterattack.

But the Minutemen grew in the game, especially after the first goal, and that started with the performance of the backline. Despite the absence of centerback Matt Fordham, whose lower leg was in a cast, and who O’Leary describes Fordham as one of the best in the conference at his position, Zambetti and the back four stepped up to the occasion.

Zambetti held it down with four saves in the first half and transmitted great confidence and safety to his defenders. He was reliable all game long and didn’t give Yale chances.

Aidan Kelly was particularly dominant in the air, something he prides himself in doing and something his game is almost “built on.” He helped neutralize the Bulldog’s big forward Eric Lagos throughout the game, and his communication with the rest of the backline was noticeable from anywhere on the field.

“[The clean sheet is] massive,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to make this place a fortress and we got another [clean sheet] today. Really solid, didn’t give up many chances at all, when Zambetti’s called upon he’s brilliant … I thought Brad [Moccio] came in and was just a perfect fit … the key for me is just talking to him. To keep talking and where we need to be at what times of the game and how we can defend different players on the pitch.”

O’Leary has mentioned that this team’s structure begins at the back.

“So 14 [straight games unbeaten] at home is pretty good,” Kelly added. “I suppose that’s the basis of us. We sort of build our structure from the back and we move as a unit. And then from there we can build into our attacking phases. But it’s really the back four hopefully, to do the easy stuff and do the basics and then leave it to the boys up top to score us goals.”

UMass outshot Yale 12-6 and, despite both teams having four shots on goal, the Minutemen’s chances were of higher quality and they took advantage, providing the huge crowd with plenty of reasons to return.

The attendance of around 1750 is the highest since Sep. 3, 2022, when the Minutemen beat Boston College 3-0.

“I hope they come back again,” O’Leary said. “I think they were well entertained today, and hopefully they’ll come back for our next one.”

UMass will travel to Providence on Saturday, Sep. 9 to face the Friars next. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

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

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