USOC Preview: WM Pioneers-Mass Premier

Photo credit: David Henry (sweetdogphotos.com)

Photo credit: David Henry (sweetdogphotos.com)

A clash of Commonwealth clubs will help kick off the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup tournament on Wednesday, as the Western Mass Pioneers (PDL) and Mass Premier Soccer (USASA) face off at venerable Lusitano Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30pm, with an online stream available via ussoccer.com.

The Pioneers enter the tournament following a fourth-place finish (5-3-6, 21 points) inside of the Northeast Division last season. Coach Federico Molinari brought his young club within striking distance of the divisional playoffs thanks to a strong defense (1.07 GAA), and timely goals from Junior Alencar, who scored nine times in six games for the Ludlow-based XI.

Molinari returns a number of key players from last year’s club for Wednesday’s match. Not only will Alencar be available for selection, but so will captain Jay Willis, the anchor of the Pioneers’ defense for over a decade. Another player who’ll aid the Pioneers’ cause: goalkeeper Warren Gross, who collected a division-best nine clean sheets in 2012. Meanwhile, Max Viera will resume his role in the Pioneers’ midfield, where he played 878 minutes over 12 games last year.

Mass Premier, which went 11-6-1 (31 points) in Bay State Soccer League action last year, finds itself in the unique situation of featuring in two Open Cup tournaments simultaneously. On Sunday, they outlasted the Landsdowne Bhoys in a 1-1 (4-3 PKs) in a Region 1 USASA semifinal clash of the 2015 tournament. With the win, they’ll head to the Region 1 finals on Jun. 15 against the Maryland Bays.

But with their attention turned to the 2014 tournament, one of the best amateur sides in the region will need to get the most from key contributors. Player/coach Nick Christman often sparks attacks along the wing, while Tyler Macnee and Derek Nobrega have all tallied in big games before. MPS also boasts a pair of former MLS players in Sam Brill (New England Revolution) and Ben Shuleva (FC Dallas), both of whom bring savviness and stability to a side that seems to get better every year.

Wednesday’s matchup will be the first time the Pioneers and MPS meet. But given the impressive talent both sides boast, it should be a memorable introduction, one which will take place at one of the region’s most historic venues, no less.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He's contributed to The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or e-mail him at BOConnell21@aol.com