UMass wraps up four-game road trip against Dayton on Saturday – Massachusetts Daily Collegian
Minutemen lead three-game winning streak
After a series of games in mid-September in which the Massachusetts men’s soccer team lost two of three games, things changed thanks to a successful stint on the road.
UMass (7-2-1, 1-1-0 Atlantic 10) is stepping up a gear at the right time. After winning three straight games away from Rudd Field, the Minutemen will end their road trip with a clash against Dayton (3-5-2, 0-1-0 A-10). The Flyers have struggled to find their rhythm this season, but faced a tough non-conference schedule to start the year. Dayton lost 3-0 on the road to No.4 West Virginia and 3-1 at home to No.10 Kentucky.
“The message [to the team] is to keep doing what we have been doing, ”UMass midfielder Ben Shepherd said ahead of Saturday’s game. “You just have to stay focused. I think when our mindset is right, we can do press teams, high press teams, and they can’t do it with us. I think [we just have to] keep focus and mindset. We’ve been great on trips away so hopefully we can keep that momentum going. “
The Minutemen are riding high right now due to clutch play on the road. All three wins were decided by one goal, conceding just two goals in that span.
Strong defense and aggressive frontal attack play were key to the winning streak. UMass’ last game was on the road at Yale where they narrowly came to the win thanks to a last minute goal from Filippo Begliardi Ghidini to lead them 1-0. The team comes together at the right time as the conference heats up.
“Confidence is really high [right now]”Shepherd said.” I mean it was a good Yale team that we played, and we thought we had the best possession and the best of luck. Obviously, very high confidence right now.
Shepherd has been a key part of the Minutemen’s success this year. A senior in a red shirt, Shepherd was critical in the midfield in the linking game between him and the top three of Begliardi Ghidini, Yosuke Hanya and Alec Hughes. During the three-game winning streak, Shepherd combined six shots on goal for the Minutemen, a key offensive attack boost after he failed to register a shot in the two losses to Vermont and Saint Louis.
“I feel like I’m playing better,” Shepherd said. “In the middle of the season I had some issues to sort out, but I came back and I think I played a little better.
Another key factor for UMass has been their ability to convert from set pieces. Head Coach Fran O’Leary has emphasized throughout the year how essential they are to his team’s success. The Minutemen are proving they can create attacking opportunities with these plays on the pitch and have looked dangerous on offense when they execute well.
“Obviously against UMass Lowell the sets were huge and in general they’re huge for college football,” Shepherd said. “It has been a high priority and I’m just happy to be able to contribute in this way. “
Against UMass Lowell, the Minutemen converted their two goals with beautifully executed set pieces. Shepherd assisted Andrew Ortiz in the opening goal against the River Hawks with a through pass he sent into the box. Shepherd’s ability to send quality balls into the box after a free kick had an impact on UMass.
The Minutemen have already tied their winning tally in their previous two seasons in 2019 and the shortened spring 2021 season. It will be important to stay focused on conveying that success in qualifying for the A-10 tournament.
“Last year we were upset not to be in the A-10 tournament,” Shepherd said. “I think we have a little chip on our shoulder. Many teams do not yet see us as this conference powerhouse. We still have that chip and we’re still that underdog, so that’s a good thing.
UMass ends his road trip when he faces Dayton on Saturday. The kick-off is set at 7 p.m.
Frederick Hanna III can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @FrederickHIII.