Goalkeeper Austin Kroll comes out to make a save against a Brown University forward. (Matt Dwyer)
by Andrew Sciascia
Despite playing from behind for longer than they have at any point in the season, UMass Lowell pulled off a thrilling comeback in the end of regulation to maintain their spotless record. They handed the Brown University Bears their first defeat this season by way of several offensive adjustments in the second half.
The River Hawks went into the second half trailing by 1 point. The header by Bears’ sophomore back Jack Hagstrom came late in the 8th minute of play from a high cross into the box by junior mid Nico Lozada.
The first half started slow for UMass Lowell. The match was a back and forth for possession in the early minutes. Several times the Bears looked to catch the River Hawk defense sleeping with breakaway crosses, but after breaking down a few of these attempts from Brown’s forwards, UMass Lowell established a possession game that would prove to be the story of the night.
Solid passing and transition game were key. Brown’s defense proved to be a challenge, keeping the River Hawks from converting control and a few solid chances into points. UMass Lowell did, however, carry the momentum from their ball control and led in shots, 6-1, over into the second half.
The River Hawks came out to an incredibly aggressive offensive start in the second half. Their ball movement on the front end, in and around the box, was smoother and quick. Multiple chances just wide of the net left fans on the edge of their seats.
These chances were finally capitalized on just six minutes into the half when River Hawk senior mid Carlos Ruiz placed a beautiful cross inside the box for Wuilito Fernandes to tap into the bottom right corner for his sixth goal of the season.
The remaining time looked just as the start of the half had, with UMass Lowell dominating the possession game. Even when Brown found itself in position, soft, poorly placed passes were quickly snapped up by a hungry River Hawk defensive core.
As things started to slow, a strong individual effort from Fernandes, creating several opportunities up front, one being a bicycle kick off the right post, reinvigorated the team’s offensive efforts. With 10 minutes to go, the ball found itself back in the possession of Carlos Ruiz, who played a stellar through ball to freshman forward Ivan Abramovic who finished a breakaway goal to give his team a lead that would not be taken away.
The game marked Abramovic’s third game winning goal this season, two of which happen to have been clutch scores to close out nail biter matches in overtime or late in regulation.
“Everything stops… The intensity… There’s nothing like scoring a goal,” Abramovic said.
He also referenced the immense impact fan turnout has had on the team’s play this year,.“They’re sitting on the walls. It gives the feeling like they’re in the game with us. It gives you the extra energy.”
Head Coach Christian Figueroa focused on two key words following the win: “patience” and “character.”
Figueroa disclosed that he felt the team was too rushed on offense at the outset, which resulted in the inability to break through to the net in the first half, so adjustments were made at the half. He also indicated that the major takeaway from this game which would feed further efforts this season was the idea of character.
“When they’re down how do they respond?” he asked. It is his belief that so long as the team maintains the character to stick to the system and fight when they are down for long periods of time, as they were for the first time tonight, they will continue to be successful.
The team’s attitude about their flawless record, and a match with a strong Dartmouth coming in the same week can be summed up in Carlos Ruiz’s words, “Think about the next game like it’s finals… It’s just one more win, the next one’s what’s important.”