By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — On Arlington’s Arbiter website this morning, the results of yesterday’s game reads W, 2-0.
The assumption is that the reports out of Wakefield were inaccurate. It’s a fair mistake. The Spy Ponders, after all, haven’t lost a regular season game since 2020. They were ranked No. 7 in the entire state recently by the Boston Globe and for good reason. Consistently one of the best programs around, Arlington once again has a deep and talented team.
But Sept. 12, 2023 belonged to the Warriors.
A first half goal by sophomore Jack Millward, a penalty kick goal by senior captain Darragh Casey in stoppage time of the second half, a shutout from senior goalkeeper Andrew Valley and all-out hustle and defense from every single Warrior earned them one of the biggest victories in recent team history for their first win of the 2023 season.
“Our guys had a little chip on their shoulders coming into today especially against a team that was ranked 7th in the state and favored to win the league. We took exception to that,” said Wakefield head coach Matt Angelo. “Yesterday in practice, I’ve never seen them more focused and ready to go. From the opening bell, I thought we controlled it for the first 20 minutes, it felt even in the next 20 and then in the second half we just showed the grit, the desire, that old-school, throwback Wakefield, where we dug our heels in, defended and said, ‘Come at us, we’re going to win every ball.’”
That grit and determination started on the back line from seniors, captain Brian Purcell and Frank Leone and sophomores Aidan Bligh and Matt Keefe.
It continued in the midfield with senior captains Casey, Marc Laverdiere and Reid Festel along with senior Elias Anjim, junior Charles Gagne and freshmen Alex De Morais and Guy Revah. Millward fit the bill as well, working up front all game to pressure the Arlington defense.
Of course, it takes a total team effort to earn a victory like this.
“Everybody in the back line played outstanding, and Valley was unbelievable, making tough saves that some keepers back out of,” said Angelo. “Jack Millward was all over the field today; he was essentially 1-v-4 against their back line and was giving them fits all game.”
Millward’s goal came 11 minutes in after some good passing in the midfield by Gagne and Anjim to free up Casey who found Millward on the left side. The sophomore’s first shot was saved but he stuck with it, collecting the rebound and calmly burying it for the lead.
The defense locked in from there as Purcell, Leone, Keefe and Bligh accepted the challenge and stepped up to hold the lead into halftime while Valley did his part, playing the position perfectly as he shut off crosses and knew exactly when to be aggressive and take control.
Valley’s fearless slide on a potential good bid set the tone for the second half as the Warriors went to work on shutting down a Spy Ponder attack that was gaining steam. Another sliding stop with the left hand lifted the crowd who was all in on Wakefield’s gameplan to put the hard hats on and refuse to relinquish the lead.
With 20 minutes to go, Angelo called a timeout and reminded his team of the opportunity at hand. There was work ahead, but this year’s Warriors proved they won’t shy away from that.
“Last year, we had a ton of skill and we had a great season but this year, we have a lot of new guys as well as seniors who have played for four years and what I would say is we have, for lack of a better word, some ‘dogs’ this year,” said Angelo. “We have guys who, like in that second half, are going to out-tough opponents. Mix that with the talent we have and I think this is going to be a successful year.”
Arlington worked to get the ball forward, especially to a lethal left side but Leone, especially, kept going at full speed from his right back spot to shut it down.
While difficult to single anyone out in this team win, Gagne, a transfer back home for his junior year, was especially tough as a defensive midfielder, winning every 50/50 ball.
“He’s a welcomed addition,” said Angelo. “He has grit and he fits really well in our midfield with Marc and Reid who have that same mentality.”
Casey fired away one of Wakefield’s many second-half clears just as the clock went into stoppage time and Millward ran onto it, tapping around one defender and pressuring another which led to a handball in the box. Casey stepped up and tucked it into the left side of the net, setting off a Warrior celebration that was only topped by the final one as the whistle blew to signify Wakefield’s huge win.
It might be shocking to some around the Middlesex League, especially after Wakefield lost their opener in a wild, 3-2 road game against Gloucester on Saturday, but it wasn’t surprising for these Warriors who know exactly what they’re capable of this season.
“Rankings don’t matter,” said a proud Angelo after the win. “We showed the league tonight who the best team is.”
Of course, any team would be confident after a victory like that. In order to maintain it, the Warriors will need to lock in every day, like they have this week. If they can, their goals of a league title – which came up just short to Melrose last year – and a deep state tourney run, can be accomplished.
“We learned some lessons from last year and I think our biggest focus is on the small things – those little details that will add up and help us in the long run,” said Angelo.
So far, those small details have equaled a big start. The Warriors (1-1) will look to keep it going tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. when they travel to Woburn (0-2).