Dozens of aspiring pros, plus a number of players from last year’s squad, participated in the club’s first tryout of the calendar year.
“We had a relatively young team last year and a lot of them have expressed interest in coming back and playing another season,” said Pioneers General Manager Greg Kolodziey. “That’s definitely encouraging.”
The Premier Development League (USL) franchise recently held tryouts in both “Soccer City,” an indoor complex across the Chicopee River from their Ludlow, MA headquarters, and “Sports World,” the tremendous training dome visible from I-91 in East Windsor, CT.
During both tryouts, a handful of veteran Pioneers from 2012’s 3rd place squad (6-4-6) appeared alongside the dozens of new players looking to keep active before college soccer starts up again in the fall.
Among the players looking to make a PDL team for the first time was Mike Fisher, a lifelong Pioneers fan and product of the club’s recently-acquired Western United youth system.
“I grew up going to the games and following the team,” said the Babson College midfielder/forward. “I played in Western United (youth system) my whole life. My team’s been to the state finals many times and Western United and the Pioneers recently merged. Then I played for the Pioneers U-20 team. That was a great experience and now I want to come back.”
And it’s a good time for Fisher to return to the Ludlow-based club. Three years ago, the club voluntarily dropped down from the now-dissolved USL-2 to PDL. The transition wasn’t as smooth as expected, with the club finishing sixth in the Northeast Division in 2010. But thanks to a dedicated core of supporters and an improved product on the field, the Pioneers are looking strong on multiple fronts.
“We as an organization…we’re ninth in the whole country for attendance,” Kolodziey observed while watching the tryout squads make themselves known. “The average was just over a 1,000 fans a game. We have a very good fan base and Lusitano Field’s a hot place for soccer.”
Going into 2013, some concern lies in the potential loss of U.S. Men’s U-20 goalkeeper, Warren Gross. At the time of the Western Mass tryouts, Kolodziey said that Gross was eyeing a team closer to the summit of the American soccer pyramid.
“He was a great worker and he might be heading to a higher level,” Kolodziey said. ”Which is what this league’s all about.”
Goals were sparse for Western Mass last year (1.13 goals per game), but with Gross leading the PDL in shutouts (9 in a 16-game season) and a solid set of defenders in front of him, the team remained in the playoff hunt until a late string of ties and crucial loss against GPS Portland Phoenix resigned them to third place in the final standings.
Still, with the 2013 season on the horizon, the Pioneers have only one objective: improve upon last year’s solid showing. And it all begins with the first tryout of the year.