By: Liam O’Murchu
GW men’s soccer dropped a crucial Atlantic 10 match to UMass on Wednesday afternoon, 4-1. The Buff & Blue (5-5-2, 1-3 A-10) looked off the pace from the beginning and struggled to get anything going thanks to two early goals conceded to the Minutemen (6-0-5, 1-0-3 A-10) and a hat trick from junior forward Alec Hughes.
“Look, it was a nightmare from start to finish for us, right?” GW head coach Craig Jones said. “We never got a chance to execute the game plan because we gave goals away so quickly.”
UMass opened the scoring in the 6th minute after junior forward Nick Zielonka got in behind GW’s defense down GW’s left side. Zielonka played a square pass to an oncoming Hughes, who shot it to the near post. GW goalkeeper Justin Grady got a piece of it but the ball slipped off the wet turf and under his arms into the back of the net.
GW got some possession in advanced areas immediately following the goal but regressed into their poor play quickly in the 15th minute. Sophomore defender Jared DeMott played a pass back to Justin Grady, who took a touch across the face of his goal. Unfortunately for Grady, Hughes was applying pressure, the touch got away from him and the Glastonbury, Connecticut native deflected it into the net from two yards out.
This was as disastrous a start as you could imagine for GW, who started the game in a 5-2-3, looking to absorb pressure and counter, as they had in their last two matches. However, they could no longer employ those tactics as they would have to be the ones on the front foot now to make up the deficit.
Senior midfielder Elias Norris became the focal point of the GW attack, routinely getting past his defender on UMass’ right side. He was rewarded for his bright play with a goal in the 30th minute. Norris beat his man down to the endline, cut it back and pinged it off the far post to halve GW’s deficit.
It seemed like the Buff & Blue were back in it. But five minutes later Minutemen sophomore defender Matt Fordham put a long throw into the box. Freshman defender Aidan Kelly flicked it on and Hughes got onto the end of the rebound off a Grady save for an open tap in at the back post. It was another instance of lackadaisical defending and another instance of a set piece goal conceded by GW.
“Everything we talked about yesterday, they did.” Jones said. “Everything we talked about what we should do, we didn’t do. So it wasn’t something we weren’t expecting. We’d talked about it, we’d gone over it, guys are just failing to execute it. And it’s disappointing.”
Moments later, Grady made way for sophomore goalkeeper Richard Raupp in the 36th minute. Grady’s struggles were well documented in my last game blog. Grady started the year strong and had his best games against Davidson and Howard but has struggled since he suffered a hamstring injury against James Madison. It will be interesting to see who starts on Saturday at St. Bonaventure, as Grady is the most talented among the goalkeeper corps but is in poor form. (For what it’s worth, I think it will be Raupp who gets the start.)
Coming out of halftime, GW had the opportunity to get back into the game. Instead, they came out flat and conceded three minutes into the second stanza.
UMass graduate student defender Nathaniel Cardozo lofted a deep ball into the back post and sophomore midfielder Andrew Ortiz redirected it across goal on top of the box. Zielonka floated away from his marker, junior defender Aaron Kronenberg (who also lost his man on the third Hughes goal), and volleyed into the bottom corner to move the UMass lead to 4-1.
Throughout the second half, GW was better but didn’t have any clear chances. This was largely due to the stout and organized defense from the Minutemen (Which is completely valid. We need to destigmatize parking the bus. When you’re up 4-1 in a crucial conference match it would be irresponsible not to do so).
But that changed a bit when senior attacker Tiago Carvalho entered the game for GW in the 78th minute. Within a minute of being on the field Carvalho clobbered a volley off the crossbar for the Buff & Blue from a cleared corner kick. It was indicative of the strong defense that UMass played that GW’s best second half chance came off a recycled corner kick from outside the box.
UMass remains undefeated and plays St. Joe’s this Saturday at home before visiting #16 Vermont next Tuesday. Alec Hughes has spearheaded the attack with eight goals and two assists while the team has conceded 11 goals in as many games.
In terms of GW, they need a win on Saturday at St. Bonaventure, who sits at 3-6-2 and 0-3-1 in A-10 play. However, the Bonnies are coming off a draw 1-1 against #16 Dayton, by far their best result of the season to date. A win would put GW back in the thick of the hunt for a spot in the A-10 championship, although they sit 13th right now.
Jones talked about the difficulties of getting to Olean, New York, which sits over an hour from any major airports and a 6+ hour drive from DC. Jones says the team will bus up on Friday morning, with enough time to train Friday evening and prepare for the match that kicks off at 4 PM on Saturday. The game can be streamed on ESPN+.