Five years after it played its last game in the now-defunct USL-2, the Western Mass Pioneers announced on Wednesday that it will return to the pro ranks by fielding a side in the newly-formed American Soccer League (ASL).
The Ludlow (Mass.)-based side, who claimed the 1999 USL-2 championship, have fielded a team in the Premier Development League (PDL) since self-relegating from USL-2 due to costs after the 2009 season. According to Steve Scott, the Pioneers executive director of soccer operations, the move was made in order to raise the bar for its development teams.
“Keeping our development team is vital to our vision of the organization,” Scott told MassLive.com on Thursday. “We can have youngsters play for Western United, move up and play for our development team when they are in college, and then play for our professional team right here at Lusitano Stadium.”
The club will kick off its 10-game fall season schedule on Aug. 30 vs. fellow Commonwealth club Mass United. The opener also coincides with one of the region’s largest Portuguese feasts, which is hosted by Our Lady of Fatima parish every Labor Day weekend.
The Pioneers organization currently boasts one of the biggest footprints in the region, with teams in the PDL and the Connecticut Soccer League. The organization also backs a number of youth teams, including Western United.
Additionally, the Pioneers’ home grounds - Lusitano Stadium – is believed to be the only soccer-specific stadium in the region, and the Pioneers have regularly led the PDL Northeast division in attendance since joining in 2010.
Federico Molinari, who currently coaches the club’s PDL team, will take on the coaching reins for the ASL side once the PDL season concludes.
“We are excited to be re-forming our pro team,” Pioneers president Celso Correia told MassLive.com on Thursday. “It was important for us to get more soccer games here. More games in the spring and fall will give our fans what they want, to come here and cheer on their Pioneers.”
ASL president Matthew Driver, who was in attendance for the announcement, specifically cited the stadium as one of the reasons why he believes the Pioneers will be a good fit for the league.
“We are so pleased to have the Pioneers on board,” Driver told MassLive.com on Thursday. “They are a great organization and have beautiful facilities here. We can’t wait for the season to start.”
In addition to the Pioneers, the ASL will also field two other New England-based teams: Mass United FC, and an unnamed club from Rhode Island that is believed to be called the Oceaneers.
PIONEERS PRO SCHEDULE
(Home games at Lusitano Stadium, Ludlow, Mass.)
Aug. 30 – Mass. United, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 – at Newark (TBA)
Sept. 13 – at Rhode Island (TBA)
Sept. 20 – Atlantic City, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 – Rhode Island, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 – at Philadelphia (TBA)
Oct. 11 – Newark, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 – at Evergreen (TBA)
Oct. 25 – Icon FC, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Mass United (TBA)