LUDLOW, Mass. – Professional soccer returned to Lusitano Stadium following a four-year hiatus as Western Mass Pro Soccer Club kicked off their inaugural ASL campaign with a 1-1 draw against Mass United FC on Saturday.
Winger Chris Roswess opened the scoring inside of seven minutes to give the hosts a lead that proved to be short-lived after defender Jay Willis inadvertently knocked it into his own net in the eighth minute.
Saturday’s match was the first professional match played by Western Mass since the organization self-relegated from the now-defunct USL-2 to PDL prior to the 2010 season. During their initial venture into the professional ranks, the club claimed the 1999 D-3 National Championship, and were title finalists in 2005.
But Roswess ensured that the past was little more than afterthought when he etched his name onto the scoresheet early on. In the seventh minute, Luke Perry crossed it to the speedy winger at the near post, where Roswess poked it through to get the hosts off to a bright start.
“It feels great to score the first goal for us,” said Roswess. “This was my first professional game, so it was definitely good to get a goal.”
That goal would not stand for long, though. Moments after Roswess registered his first professional strike, misfortune visited the Lusitanos when club captain Jay Willis attempted to play a ball back to keeper Warren Gross. But the longtime defender’s header sailed over the reach of Gross before it landed in the back of the net to gift the guests the equalizer.
“Sometimes, you feel very disappointed because you try so hard (and) you work so hard to do everything to win,” Western Mass coach Federico Molinari said. “We have to be more focused and (have) more concentration, but I think in the first half, we were very good.”
Indeed, the duration of the first half showcased ample opportunities for the hosts to re-claim their all-too-brief lead. With much of their play going through linkman Maxi Viera, the Lusitanos knocked on the door in the 35th minute when Dan Fabian crossed it for Roswess, who brought it down inside the box and fired a shot that forced Olafur Gunnarson to make a diving save.
Fabian and Roswess collaborated on another chance five minutes later, but this time, the winger chipped it just over the bar.
As promising as the first half looked for the Lusitanos, the second have would be another story entirely as a result of the adjustments made by their opponent following the interval.
“In the first half, we were going forward too quickly,” Mass United coach Stefano Franciosca said. “We wanted to play with more numbers (in the second half), and we were able to create to more scoring opportunities. And they did that, and it was great to see.”
One of their best opportunities arrived in the 62nd minute when Lassana Sanha blasted a shot from the edge of the area that Gross had to promptly parry away. Gross was called upon to make another save when Carlos Diniz tried to send one through moments later.
“Warren played great,” Roswess said. “He’s a great keeper, and there’s really nothing else you can say other than that.”
Mass United collected a series of free kick chances in the waning stages, but their form let them down on each occasion as Gross would not be seriously tested on any of the Riders’ remaining set pieces.
The hosts made one final bid for the go-ahead in the 83rd minute after Fabian darted toward the near post with an eye toward goal. But with his angle quickly disappearing, the best he could do was place a shot right into the waiting arms of Gunnarson.
Although the draw wasn’t the result they were looking for on Saturday, the Lusitanos tried to look at the positives following the match.
“In the first half, we did what we practiced, and that’s the best part for a coach,” Molinari said. “To see the team play the way that you trained them (was good).”