THE MELROSE Red Raider soccer team opens this Friday at 6:30 at home against Arlington. (file photo)


Season opener tonight at 6:30 p.m.


MELROSE—After another league-winning season in 2020, the Melrose High boys’ varsity soccer team returns with a target on its back and start their fall campaign this Friday at home against Arlington at Fred Green Field at 6:30 p.m. Fans are welcome without restriction so it’s the perfect time to celebrate a return to Melrose soccer.

Last year the Red Raiders graduated 16 seniors, including starters who helped Melrose earn their second straight Middlesex Freedom title. But Melrose head coach Dean Serino has a knack of reloading talent each season, so this year expect the same, thanks to unique blend of senior captain leadership and underclass skill that will keep Melrose competitive.

“I really like this team,” says coach Serino. “There is such great potential here. These are complete soccer players who play with great skill and enthusiasm. They just love competing in this game.”

Leading the team as captains this year are seniors Liam O’Hara, Parker Thorton and Matt Whelan. These three starters were key cogs to the machine last year when Melrose completed an uninterrupted season of varsity soccer during COVID-19 restriction. Look for Whelan and O’Hara to shine on defense while Parker Thorton will be counted to serve as lead attacker. “These three are just physically strong and athletic with great experience that will help our underclassmen,” says the coach. “We’re going to rely on them so much.”

Serino notes that a strong sophomore class enters this season and they will look to their seniors as mentors, which includes returning starter Niall Gavin. Additionally, juniors such as Joey Beshel and Russell O’Donnell may carry much of the offense.

At the net, look for senior Jay Vogan or sophomore Aidan Heipler to step in as goalie, replacing graduate Cam McDonough, now playing college soccer. In front of the net look for Niall Gavin, Matt Whelan and Liam O’Hara to make up much of their defense. “Matt, Liam and Niall can play anywhere, really,” says Serino.

Rounding out the roster are Sam Barbagallo, Rory Coyne, Gerard Decunha, Max Farmelant, Liam Gavin, Erik Hall, Amir Lahkiky, Damien Markovic, Spencer Moltoni, Sam O’Donnell, Ian Smith, Jovan Ssebugwawi, Sean Udas and Jay Vogan.

Coach Serino contends this is a team that is going to grow stronger this fall. “This is a fairly young team but they are very skilled and tough players. They are getting better every practice and I expect them to become stronger with each game too.”

The Middlesex Freedom League, meanwhile, remains as tough as ever. “It’s the most even that it’s ever been,” notes Serino.

That includes historically tough Watertown, an up-and-coming Stoneham program and teams like Wakefield and Wilmington who always put on competitive shows. This year, unlike last, Melrose will enjoy a 16 game campaign that will culminate in playoffs, a destination Melrose is all too familiar with. Says Serino, “We’d love to win the league again and make playoffs, of course, but even more important is getting better each game for a full season.”

Check out Melrose in action against Arlington at home this evening, Friday, Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Fred Green Field. They will travel to Woburn next Tuesday.