Published in the October 23, 2018 edition.


MELROSE — Wakefield goalie Zach Fiore collected another long Melrose shot in the air, took a couple of dribbles and drew a deep breath under the lights at chilly Fred Green Field last night. The boisterous yet cautious cheers from the Wakefield side of the stands echoed back to a tense buzz that was broken by some much needed levity yelled out by a Warrior fan.

“Tie your shoes, Zach!”

The score was 2-1 Wakefield with just over five minutes remaining, but stalling isn’t quite Fiore’s style as he dropkicked a missile back out to the Red Raiders’ side of the field.

The Warriors entered their road matchup against the Red Raiders following a couple of disappointing losses to Wilmington on Thursday and Beverly on Saturday.

That meant Wakefield’s drive for the state tournament would come up short.

But, with two games left, the team made a decision on how they would compete the rest of the way.

Not to mention, beating Melrose is always sweet.

With that mentality, the Warriors kicked the door down at Fred Green Field on the home team’s senior night and made it clear from the start that they were here to win.

Wakefield’s defensive line (captain Aidan Cusack, Patrick Collins, Josh Goc and Liam Bry) was sharp all game and Fiore was a rock.

About ten minutes in, Fiore had a sliding, horizontal dive to break up a through ball, colliding with a Melrose forward in the process. Fiore was shaken up on the play and was subbed out, but returned not five minutes later.

Melrose controlled much of the possession and chances, forcing Fiore to make a point blank save with about 20 minutes left. That seemed to spark the midfield and forwards who started to buzz for the last 15 minutes of the half. Captain Josh Ell was strong on the right side and some better possession in the middle from Eric Keefe changed the rhythm of the game.

A long punt from Fiore changed everything.

A keeper connecting with a striker is kind of like completing a Hail Mary, except with higher degree of difficulty. Even if the punt is long enough, the forward must read the distance, the power, sometimes even the spin of the ball, while also reading the positioning of multiple defenders who have the advantage of meeting the challenge head-on. Fiore’s bomb was read perfectly by forward John Summers who ran on to a bounce over a Melrose player’s head and was taken down by the last defender to draw a free kick outside the 18 on the right side.

Following a pass in off the free kick, another push was called on Melrose in the box. A conference between the two refs deemed it wasn’t a penalty kick but rather an indirect free kick from about the same distance as the penalty dot. Wakefield elected to just tip the ball to start and allow captain Cusack to do the rest. Cusack buried one in the top left shelf, where momma hides the cookies, and Wakefield took a 1-0 lead.

Melrose struck on a free kick of their own with about 3:40 left in the half to even the score.

The second half was tense and physical with both teams trying to scratch and claw their way to a win.

The Warriors got their winning goal out of the way early in the half.

Cusack played a beautiful cross from right to left into the box and Keefe ran onto it, making strong contact complete with a nice finish for a 2-1 lead.

All that meant was the defense just needed to finish it off…for 31 more minutes.

Captain Carter Margolis played like a leader in the second half, winning plenty of 50/50 balls in the midfield and working with Summers to put some pressure on the Melrose defense.

Wakefield’s defensive line focused on just clearing the zone. Long clears from Goc, Bry, Collins and Cusack were just fine with Wakefield head coach Ilir Ujkaj so long as the forwards kept pressuring and making life difficult for the Melrose defenders.

In some ways, the fiery passion of Ujkaj seemed to push his players through a stretch in which many teams holding a one-goal lead seem to break from the pressure.

Melrose, unable to get anything going past Wakefield’s last line of defense, took a timeout with 20 minutes left.

Wakefield still held strong.

It’s not easy explaining how many Warriors stepped up to halt the Red Raiders in the second half. A team effort might seem like a lazy way to describe it, but it’s the truth.

In the end, Wakefield quite simply wanted it more.

“We just wanted this for the seniors,” said Ujkaj. “We fought with heart and defended to death.”

The win was the fifth Middlesex victory of the season for the Warriors, an improvement on last year’s four, and Wakefield has a chance to improve on that mark with their final game of the season in Stoneham on Thursday.

Wakefield’s seniors: Cusack, Ell, Margolis, Nick Connor, Skyler Burns and Brian Smith were honored at home before Saturday’s game against Beverly, but it was this night in Melrose, on the field of their rivals, that these seniors will remember most. Not a bad memory to have.