New England Soccer Today

Championship Goals

Photo credit: David Henry/

Photo credit: David Henry/

The Town of Ludlow, Mass. has a long and storied history of producing title-winning teams. And on Friday, Western Mass Pro Soccer hopes to join that pantheon of champions.

With its ASL championship showdown against New Jersey-based Icon FC on tap, Western Mass will get the chance to stand side-by-side the likes of Ludlow Lusitanos, Western Mass Pioneers and Gremio Lusitano as championship-clinching clubs from a locale that many in the region refer to as Soccertown, New England.

While visions of Western Mass – whom are often referred to as “the Lusitanos” – kicking off the Fourth of July weekend with a championship victory has many in Ludlow buzzing with excitement, head coach Federico Molinari has done well to keep an even keel as he prepares his squad for their greatest challenge to date.

Molinari’s men finished atop the ASL table on 37 points with a 10-1-7 record, but was unable to overtake Icon – which collected 34 points with a 10-4-4 mark – in their two regular season meetings. Both encounters ended in 1-1 draws, and as such, Molinari expects the New Jersey selection to present a formidable challenge to his side on Friday.

“Their midfielders are very good – in most of their games, they control the game,” Molinari said. “They also came from a big win in the semifinal, so they will have a lot of confidence.”

That confidence – which came from a 5-1 drubbing of the Rhode Island Oceaneers – is only part of the reason why Western Mass coach is wary of Icon. Another is the fact that Friday’s final will essentially serve as a home game for Icon.

Weeks prior to the start of the playoffs, the league announced that the site of the title match would be Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. While Icon will get to enjoy the creature comforts of home throughout the week, Western Mass must board a bus and make the trip down to the Garden State during one of the busiest travel days of the year.

But Molinari isn’t one to dwell on any competitive disadvantages. Rather, his focus will be on getting his team – which enters the final on an eight-game unbeaten streak (4-0-4) – focused on the task at hand.

“We need to have a high level of concentration for the whole game,” Molinari said. “We have to play the same way and with the same or more intensity that we were playing with during the last four games.”

Those last four games have witnessed the likes of Luke Perry and Chris Roswess steer the offense to solid victories over Evergreen Diplomats (4-1) and Philadelphia (2-0). In the back, Ludlow native and captain Jay Willis has anchored a defense that’s only allowed two goals over those last four games.

For his part, Molinari is appreciative of the collective efforts that have allowed him to coach in championship match, the first for a Ludlow-based side since 2005, when the Pioneers booked a trip to the USL-2 title game.

“The first thing I will say to the players before the game is, ‘Thank you for making me and my coaching staff better coaches,’ and giving us the opportunity to be part of such a big game,” Molinari said. “After that, I will talk about the way we have to play against Icon.”

No doubt, Molinari will discuss what worked in their previous meetings against Icon, and what needs to be better this time around. Adjustments will be key for Western Mass to finally get the best of Icon.

Should those changes prove to be fruitful, Molinari will be eager to bring the championship trophy on the bus ride back to the hub of New England soccer.

“For us and the Town of Ludlow, this game means a lot,” Molinari said. “And we will do our best to represent the club and the town the best way possible.”

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