Published in the September 6, 2019 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
READING — The Wakefield High boys’ soccer team kicked off their 2019 season yesterday in Reading against a solid Rockets program.
A hard-fought stalemate led to no score at the half before Reading broke through on a corner kick with 29 minutes remaining. The Warriors defended well all game, but couldn’t convert on their few chances. The Rockets sealed it on one more goal with only five minutes to go.
The first goal of the game was a moment head coach Ilir Ujkaj would like to see the Warriors claim more often this season. The Albanian coach, in his second year at the helm in Wakefield, calls them “episodes.”
“The teams were so balanced that a single episode would change the game and that happened for them on a corner kick; it’s the same corner kick that we missed (earlier) and unfortunately after that it’s very hard to recover when the teams are so balanced.”
Balance also happens to be a term that Ujkaj and the Warriors are seeking within their roster.
It’s an experienced team this season with 13 seniors leading the way, and plenty of talented underclassmen, including three freshmen and two sophomores, who won’t have much time to get their feet wet in an always loaded Middlesex League.
“There is a good mix with 13 seniors but we also have three freshmen and we’re trying to introduce them to this kind of level, speed and physicality,” said Ujkaj. “We’re just trying to see if we can have a happy melting pot.”
Leading the way for Wakefield will be three senior captains: Patrick Collins, Anthony Pellegrino and John Summers.
Collins will quarterback the defense as a center back while Pellegrino and Summers are two strikers with relentless motors that the Warriors will rely on for goals.
Wakefield got some bad news in June when senior goalie Zach Fiore suffered a season-ending injury that Ujkaj called “a huge loss that has a big impact.” Fiore was a rock in net for Wakefield last season and the Warriors will now turn to two keepers without any varsity starts.
Sophomore Matt Sellers got the nod in game one and made plenty of terrific saves in his debut. Senior Cam Farrow should also get some opportunities.
The nine other seniors on the roster are Colby Emerson, Craig Hatfield, Cyrus Ryan, Jake Butler, John Benoit, Josh Goc, Liam Bry and Nicholas Petersen.
Goc played well against the Rockets as Wakefield’s second center back. Collins and Goc have experience playing together and the two physical defenders are tough to beat.
Emerson showed flashes of a strong left foot that created many big plays last year and the Warriors will need the wing to keep pushing the tempo this season.
Wakefield has two talented and creative junior midfielders in Eric Keefe and Joao Valdevino. The duo had a couple nice plays but couldn’t find their rhythm in game one, in part because Valdevino came down with an injury that complicated Wakefield’s plans early. If the two can get back to 100 percent they provide the Warriors with the type of punch necessary to win games.
Summers and Pellegrino didn’t have many chances against a strong back line that did a nice job of not allowing either player to turn once they received possession. The Rockets especially converged on Summers on any chance he had a touch so the Warrior strikers will need to adapt to opponents game planning against them this year.
The other juniors on the roster include Brayden Leishman, Guy Jacob, Logan Cosgrove and Will Townshend. The final sophomore is Braden Carroll.
The freshmen looking to make an immediate impact are Lucas Kehoe, Ethan Margolis and Nadeem “Nemo” Rizk.
While the Warriors have plenty to work on from game one, including better possession and conditioning, Ujkaj was happy with the effort.
“We were good, we could have done better but they left it all on the field and there is not much I can tell them they didn’t do.”
The toughest part about soccer in the Middlesex League is staying positive, especially after a loss to a squad like Reading from the larger Liberty Division.
That sentiment holds even more true when, as is so often the case, a strong team is up next on the schedule. The Warriors host powerhouse Lexington in Wakefield’s home opener on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
“It’s a heck of a league and every game is a different story, but we will take the mistakes, try to learn from them and build something,” said Ujkaj who measures success as improvement from the previous year.
“We just want to get better. I would like to break our record from last year (5 wins, three ties) and try to build something, but the goal is to beat that and at least do as well as we did last year.”