LUDLOW, Mass. – The Western Mass Pioneers proved the old truism that it’s not how you start, but rather, how you finish following a 4-1 First Round Open Cup win over GPS Massachusetts (formerly Mass Premier Soccer) on Wednesday at Lusitano Stadium.
After conceding a 7th minute goal to Santi Bedoya and putting in a listless first half performance, the Pioneers came alive in the second stanza with four unanswered goals. Will Daniels scored in the 70th and 86th minutes, while Alencar Junior struck in the 75th and 76th minutes.
“They played well and complimented each other,” Pioneers coach Federico Molinari said of Daniels and Junior. “I told them that this game is going to be (all about) the last 30 minutes, they’re going to have a lot of opportunities because (GPS Massachusetts) played last Sunday. And I knew they were going to run out of gas.”
With the win, the Pioneers advance to the second round, where they’ll face the Rochester Rhinos at Sahlen’s Stadium on Wednesday, May 14.
Unable to field many of their college prospects due final exams, the Pioneers fielded a veteran heavy side. While they struggled to find cohesion early, GPS Massachusetts gifted them an early chance when Bryce Ciambella was brought down inside the area in the sixth minute, and a penalty was awarded. But Jayme Kapinos couldn’t convert from the spot, as Jeff Newman smothered it right on the line.
With that bullet dodged, the guests wasted no time making the best of an opportunity that unfolded in the 11th minute. Bedoya, whose older brother Alejandro is a U.S. Men’s National Team regular, ran at goal and fired a shot that beat Warren Gross to give the USASA side the lead.
Despite a slew of mistakes in the midfield, the Pioneers tried to respond to Bedoya’s strike before the interval. Evan Burokas fired a shot from distance in the 30th minute that forced a save from Newman, while Junior glanced a wide open header that strayed away from frame a minute. One last crack before the break saw Daniels force Newman to make a diving save at the far post in the 45+1 minute.
Although the Pioneers boasted a fair number of first half chances, it was evident that GPS Massachusetts was the better side in the opening 45. They moved the ball well from east to west, and north to south, and clogged up the passing lanes on defense.
“I played last month against them, so I know them,” Junior said. “And that’s what I was telling (my teammates) in the locker room: we’ll figure it out. Because in the first half we didn’t play so well; we were too open.”
The second half, however, would prove to be a far different story for both sides. The guests began to tire after the witching hour, and it was at the point that the hosts, who switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 to improve their success in the midfield, smelled blood.
A speedy Samuel Naiwo took advantage of a depleted GPS defense in the 70th minute by racing down the right and sending a low cross in front for Daniels, who easily tapped it through.
Five minutes later, Junior collected a pass over the top from Jay Willis and beat the defense before chipping it over Newman, who came well off his line in an attempt to intercept it. But the keeper was too late as Junior’s gentle lob fell into the back of the net.
Junior, who was a shadow of his usual self in the first half, scored his second in the 76th minute when Ciambella released him into the final third, where the Brazilian striker would coolly finish.
“The second goal was beautiful,” said Junior. “I got the ball in the back, started on the left side, and then he passed the ball to me, a really good pass, and I finished it nicely.”
Daniels capped the scoring in the 86th minute when he sliced through the midfield, broke into the box, and put it through to collect his second goal of the game to clear the path to next week’s Second Round clash at Rochester.
“It’s nice for the club to face a big team like Rochester,” Molinari said. “So we need to prepare now, play better than how we played in the first half, and go there and play (well).”
GPS Massachusetts: Jeff Newman, Alan Ashenfelter, Pumele Maqubela, Matt Handy, Jake Edwards, Matt Lemire, Harris Smirko (Derek Nobrega 68’), Nick Christman, Santi Bedoya, Nick Figueiredo (TJ Thompson 63’, Dan MacGregor 77′), Tyler Macnee
Western Mass Pioneers: Warren Gross, Jayme Kapinos, Jay Willis, Jesse Pereira, Evan Burokas, Kyle Clancy (Mike Matera 46’), Bryce Ciambella, Tyler Carlos (Samuel Naiwo 46’), Alencar Junior (Brandon Wilson 81’), Will Daniels, James Beeston
GPS Massachusetts: Santi Bedoya (unassisted) – 11’
Western Mass Pioneers: Will Daniels (Samuel Naiwo) – 70’
Western Mass Pioneers: Junior Alencar (Jay Willis) -75’
Western Mass Pioneers: Junior Alencar (Bryce Ciambella) – 76’
Western Mass Pioneers: Will Daniels (unassisted) – 86’
Western Mass Pioneers: Jay Wills -20’
GPS Massachusetts: Alan Ashenfelter – 88’