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 biggest road win in four years against St. Bonaventure

Minutemen score five unanswered goals in 5-2 win
Devin Lippman

It’s been over four years since the Massachusetts men’s soccer team beat a team such dominant fashion on the road, but UMass put up a counterattacking exhibition in a 5-2 win at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday evening.

The Minutemen (5-4-3, 2-2-0 Atlantic 10) fell behind early but bounced back and pulled away behind clinical finishing from scorers Alec Hughes, Nick Zielonka and Mike Willis. The Bonnies (4-5-2, 1-3-0 A-10) had no answer when UMass hit them hard on the break.

Head coach Fran O’Leary oiled the machine after a three-game skid and now has the Minutemen rolling. They took the momentum of a 1-1 tie with No. 14 Vermont into a 3-0 win over George Washington and kept it going with another comfortable victory on Wednesday. They’ve now outscored opponents 8-2 over the last 180 minutes of soccer.

“What you need on the counter is, you’ve got the win [the ball] first of all, and then you need people willing to run beyond the ball, because the counter doesn’t work if everyone’s standing still, so guys sprinted beyond the ball…,” UMass head coach Fran O’Leary said. “These last two games will give us confidence and we must push on, I think that’s going to be key for us.”

Senior striker Alec Hughes continued to be a sensation for UMass. He was named the A-10 Offensive Player of the Week for his showings against the Catamounts and the Revolutionaries with a goal in each game and added two more in his strong performance against the Bonnies.

In the 63rd minute he put the Minutemen ahead from the penalty spot, dispatching it low to the right as St. Bonaventure goalie Jules Dechert jumped the wrong way. Michael Rojas won the penalty kick after beating his man to get into the box, with Marius Skattum Dahl then stepping in his way and the two colliding away from the ball.

Then, in the 80th minute, Hughes took home a quick counterattack after Shane Velez fed him at midfield. The striker carried it with pace all the way into the box and finished low to the left with precision, making the score 4-1 and picking up his third brace of the season.

Hughes had a hat trick opportunity later in the game, but smashed a shot off the post on a left-footed shot after a nicely taken chest control.

With four goals in the last three games, Hughes now leads all of Division I in goals with 11. His 31 career scores moved him into seventh all-time in the UMass ranking.

Another productive Minuteman forward, Nick Zielonka also got in on the action Wednesday. He scored twice, first from a direct free kick in the 31st minute to tie the game, shooting it low to the left and through the wall; and once from the penalty spot in the 69th minute, also low to the left and sending Dechert the wrong way.

Do-it-all senior Mike Willis won the penalty kick after taking contact from Luc Finelli in the box with a cross coming in. Willis later scored UMass’ fifth goal of the game and the first of his career. Dechert made a mistake on a long pass which Aaron O’Malley picked up and served for Willis, who carried it into the box, cut inside and finished between Dechert’s legs in the 88th minute.

The 5-2 triumph was the biggest road win for UMass since September 2019 when the Minutemen beat Central Connecticut State 6-0. The win puts UMass at 8th place in the A-10 standings, the final playoff spot, with five games left.

“Well the confidence will obviously come with wins and with goals,” O’Leary said. “But we have to be guarded, you know, we work on fine margins. If we’re a step off our opponent they can take advantage. So we really have to be on it every game. There’s a line between being confident and being overconfident. We have to be careful not to cross that line.”

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this victory, UMass finally showed an ability to bounce back in games by scoring its first game-tying goal of the season. St Bonaventure was better to start the game, creating more chances and controlling possession.

The Minutemen take the field next this Saturday when they travel to St. Joseph’s. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.

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

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