New England Soccer Today

Pioneers Keeping Home Crowd Happy

Photo credit: David Henry/

By Tim Peterson
Turley Publications Sports Correspondent

LUDLOW, Mass. — If you’re a soccer fan, there probably isn’t a better place to spend a Friday evening during the spring and summer months than at historic Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts, especially when the Western Mass. Pioneers are playing well.

The Pioneers posted a 2-0 shutout victory against the GPS Portland Phoenix Friday in the first regular season night match played at the old soccer stadium located on Winsor Street, which will be turning 100 years old next year. The Pioneers opened the home slate with a rare afternoon match against the Westchester Flames, which was also a 2-0 win, on May 21.

“We played with a lot of personality in tonight’s match, and I’m very happy with the result,” said Pioneers head coach Federico Molinari. “We just need to keep working hard and fix the little things that we didn’t do right.”

A year ago, the Phoenix (2-1-0, 6 points) swept the season series against the Pioneers (3-1-0, 9 points), which helped them finish the regular season atop the PDL’s Northeast Division table. Western Mass wound up finishing in second place. Both clubs qualified for the league playoffs and they’re battling to finish in the top two spots in the league standings again this season.

“When we played Portland here last year, the score was tied at halftime,” said Pioneers forward Dan Fabian, who was the team captain in last Friday’s match. “We lost our emotions a little bit during the second half of that match, as we received a red card and we lost that match. I thought we did a very good job of managing our emotions in tonight’s match. It’s a very big win for us.”

It was the third consecutive shutout win recorded by Pioneers goalkeeper Ben Martinez, who has been given the nickname the “Magic Man” by Pioneers public address announcer Joao Bernardo. Martinez, who attends the University of Rio Grande in Ohio, made his third start of the season against the Phoenix and he made four big saves.

“Ben did a very good job tonight,” Molinari said. “He played very well and he’s a very good keeper.”

Martinez, who was also named the “Man of the Match”, made his first save during the 16th minute of the opening half. The shot attempt taken by Phoenix forward Luke Brown deflected off the far post and rolled a couple of feet before Martinez was able to cover it up.

Five minutes later, the Pioneers had an opportunity to take the lead on a shot from distance by midfielder Evan Burokas, but G.P.S. Portland keeper Andrew Pesci (3 saves) made an outstanding diving save knocking the ball over the end line.

During the 35th minute, a free kick by Phoenix midfielder David Styles from about 30 yards out was saved by Martinez keeping the match scoreless a little bit longer.

With about 30 seconds remaining in the opening half, Western Mass defender Alex Hastings collided with Pesci in the penalty area.

“Alex was coming in on an angle and he didn’t see the goalie,” Fabian said. “It was a heavy collision and both players were injured on the play.”

Hastings, who recently graduated from Central Connecticut State University, had replaced Mauricio “Toto” Coimbra in the Pioneers starting line-up. Coimbra is out for the season after breaking his left arm at the end of the Westchester match.

Hastings, who’s from Brisbane, Australia, injured his left leg on the collision and was helped off the field. He was taken to a local hospital by ambulance to be checked out. He was replaced by Matt Moore at the start of the second half.

“When you lose a good soccer player like Alex with an injury, it’s a very tough situation,” Molinari said. “We need to have all 18 players ready to play in every match because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Pesci returned to the field at the second half, but he didn’t last very long. He was replaced in goal by Nate Brown, who’s normally a midfielder, during the 48th minute.

“We didn’t have a back-up goalie tonight,” said GPS Portland first-year head coach Craig Fannan, who was an assistant coach a year ago. “I asked Nate to go play the goalie position because he was the biggest guy on our bench. It was a very tough situation for us, but I thought my guys responded very well in the second half. We actually controlled the game, but they were able to score a couple of goals.”

Brown, who’s from Queens, New York, plays college soccer at Bryant University. His college roommate is Alex Wrona, who’s a starting defender for the Western Mass. Pioneers.

The Pioneers finally took a 1-0 lead during the 63rd minute when Fabian delivered a cross from the right wing to midfielder Carlos Ruiz, who headed the ball into the left corner past Brown.

“I saw Fabian with the ball on the right side and I knew that he was going to cross it to me,” said Ruiz, who had also scored two penalty kicks in the first three matches of the season. “I just wanted to get it on net and it was a good feeling taking a 1-0 lead at that point.”

The Pioneers only had a couple of shots on goal during the second half, as the Phoenix defenders played very well.
Martinez also made a couple of outstanding saves late in the second half.

The home team put the game out of reach when forward Chris Roswess tapped in a cross from midfielder Pierre Villez in extra time. Villez had entered the match during the 88th minute.

The Pioneers next regular season home match is against Seacoast United on June 23. They’ll be playing an exhibition match at Lusitano Stadium against the New England Revolution U-23 squad at 7:30 on Saturday night.

The Pioneers will also be hosting the CE Stars on June 21. Rafinha and Dougla Costa, who play for the Bayern Munich and the Brazilian National Team, will be conducting a clinic for youths between the ages (8-18) from 5:15-6:45 on that same night. They’ll also be signing autographs.

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