After losing headlines in the offseason, the Minutemen look as strong as ever
Going into the 2022 season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding the Massachusetts men’s soccer team.
After missing the Atlantic 10 tournament last season, the Minutemen (5-0-4, 0-0-2 A-10) said goodbye to seven reliable starters. In response to the losses, head coach Fran O’Leary added nine new faces to the roster.
But with so many new additions, there was uncertainty about how the team would play. Now UMass remains undefeated after nine games for the first time in program history, largely thanks to the contributions of these newcomers.
“I think we have really good chemistry that translates to results,” junior forward Alec Hughes said.
For many in football, a team can only go as far as their goalkeeper takes them. Therefore, the loss of French goalkeeper Marvyn Dorchin this offseason scared the Minutemen. Dorchin had five clean sheets last year, allowing roughly one goal a game.
With big shoes to fill, UMass brought in Matt Zambetti from Virginia Tech. The primary goaltender picked up where Dorchin left off. In eight games, Zambetti allowed five goals and collected four clean sheets.
However, Zambetti’s season hit a bump against Virginia Commonwealth University. Towards the end of the first half, he went down with a non-contact quadriceps injury. The Pennsylvania native missed the rest of the game and the next one against UMass Lowell.
His return came on Saturday against Duquesne. Heading into the field, the Dukes (6-0-2, 1-0-1 A-10) ranked 25th in the nation. The Minutemen goaltender shut them down to get his fourth clean sheet.
“Zambetti has a good presence,” associate head coach Ben Brewster said. “He’s had a great season so far, he’s been a great addition.”
Newly acquired Minutemen freshmen have also contributed since the jump. Leading the way is Aidan Kelly. Kelly came to UMass from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he captained the Northern Ireland under-18 team. Up to this point in the year, he has been a staple on the Minutemen’s defensive line.
Kelly has started all eight games he’s been available for, missing one due to a red card suspension. The defender puts his physicality on display on corner kicks as he clears the ball with ease. He also played a major role in the high blood pressure that UMass uses so often; he and the media are a big reason the Minutemen are averaging less than one opposing goal per game.
Another freshman making an impact is midfielder Matt Cence. After winning the MVP of the 2021 Class LL Connecticut tournament, Cence brought his talent to Amherst. The midfielder has been a solid option for UMass. He has started four games this year and appeared in all but one. His first collegiate goal came in his second start for the Minutemen against Boston College. Cence has seen the pitch for 312 minutes in nine games.
“The freshmen came in and did very well,” Brewster said.
UMass’ strong start means it currently has the third-best overall record in the conference. With a goal difference of over 12, the Minutemen are currently on pace to score 37 goals this year and only give up 15. Zambetti, Kelly and Cence have all played their part in this historic streak.
UMass will face Vermont on Tuesday at 7 pm when the Minutemen begin their three-game road trip.
Jordan Meneo can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JordanMeneo.