Pioneers beat Flames

By Tim Peterson    

Turley Publications Sports Correspondent

LUDLOW—If goalkeeper Ben Martinez continues to perform the way he did in his first two starts for the Western Mass. Pioneers, he’ll probably be signing a lot more autographs following home matches this summer.  

Less than 48 hours after posting a 2-0 shutout at A.C. Connecticut in his first ever start for the Pioneers, Martinez made a couple of impressive saves against the Westchester Flames in his first appearance at historic Lusitano Stadium.

With the Pioneers holding a slim 1-0 advantage late in the opening half, Martinez made an outstanding diving save on a penalty kick taken by a Westchester player, which appeared headed towards the left corner. Instead of the match being tied at intermission, the Pioneers went into the locker room holding a 1-0 lead. The home team would add another goal late in the second half leading to another 2-0 shutout victory in the home opener, last Sunday afternoon.

“I did make a couple of saves, which is my job, but the defense deserves most the credit,” said Martinez, who’s from Montpellier, France. “On the P.K. attempt, I just made the decision to dive to my right and he just shot the ball in that direction. I also made a save on a P.K. for my college soccer team last year.   


The members of the Pioneers defensive unit are Pat Boucher, Mauricio “Toto” Colmbra, Lasse Orlik, and Alex Wrona.

Martinez, who’s six feet tall, recently completed his sophomore year as a student at the University of Rio Grande, which is located in Rio Grande, Ohio.

Last fall, the Rio Grande men’s soccer team posted an impressive 21-2-2 overall record. The Red Storm lost to Hastings College, 1-0, in the NAIA National Tournament Championship at Delray Beach, Florida, last December.

For his outstanding performance in the postseason tournament, Martinez was selected to the All-South Region Team. 

Overall, Martinez, who was a first team All-American as a freshman, posted a total of 11 shutouts in 25 starts for Rio Grande last fall. He was also a part of two other shutouts last season. He only allowed 14 goals and was credited with a total of 42 saves. 

One of Martinez’s teammates at Rio Grande is Edu Zurita, who’s also a first-year member of the Western Mass. Pioneers. Zurita, who’s a midfielder, scored five goals and had five assists for the Red Storm as a sophomore last fall. He was also selected to the All-South Region Team.

Martinez and Zurita, who’s from Sant Boi de Llobregat, Spain, were both recommended to Pioneers head coach Federico Molinari by Pioneers team captain Maxi Viera, who also played soccer at the University of Rio Grande.

“Maxi told coach Molinari about Edu and me,” said Martinez, who made five saves in the home opener. “This is the first time that I’ve ever played a soccer game at this stadium and I really wasn’t expecting this many fans to come to our game today. Ludlow is a great soccer community.”  

Following the shutout win over Westchester, the Pioneers had a 2-1 overall record. Their only setback came in the season opener against the Seacoast United Phantoms on May 19. The final score of that match was also 2-0.  

Martinez, who played for a soccer team in Florida last summer, and Zurita are currently living with several of their teammates in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield. Besides playing soccer games, the Pioneers players will also be working at the Western Mass. Pioneers Youth Soccer Camps. The first camp session of the summer for boys and girls, who are between the ages of 6-12, is scheduled to start on June 26.

There are also several other foreign players listed on this year’s Western Mass. Pioneers roster. Just like the Cape Cod Baseball League, the Pioneers are always looking for local families to host their players for the summer.     

One of the players from Massachusetts listed on the Pioneers roster is midfielder Carlos Ruiz, who lives in East Boston. He was a senior member of the UMass Lowell men’s soccer team last fall. One of his trademarks in college was penalty kicks. Ruiz made five out of six penalty shots during his collegiate career.

After making a penalty kick in last Friday’s road win, Ruiz was given another opportunity following a handling called on a Westchester player during the 15th minute of the opening half. Ruiz fired a shot into the right corner past Flames goalkeeper Anthony Castro.

The Flames (0-3), who had lost at home to Seacoast United last Saturday night, were awarded a penalty kick by the referee twenty minutes later. That’s when Martinez made his outstanding diving save, which excited the home crowd. Martinez also signed a couple of autographs following the match.

“Ben made a very good save on the penalty shot,” said Molinari, who guided his team to the P.D.L. playoffs for the first time last year. “We just need to keep working hard in our games and at practice in order to have another successful season.”

The score remained 1-0 until the 85th minute.

“I thought we had three or four chances to score another goal during the first half and at the start of the second half, but we just couldn’t put them away,” Molinari added. “We really should’ve had a bigger lead than we did late in the game.”   

Wrona finally gave the Pioneers a little bit of breathing room by converting a free kick. He booted the ball with his left foot from just outside the penalty area on the right side and it curved into the upper left corner for his first goal of the season.

“It just felt awesome scoring that goal on the free kick,” said Wrona, who lives in Burlington, Conn. “My father taught me that shot when I was younger.”

While Martinez and Zurita are first year members of the Western Mass. Pioneers, Wrona, who is a member of the Bryant University men’s soccer team, used to attend Pioneers games as a little kid. His father, Leszek, was the Pioneers first head coach in 1998. The following season, the Pioneers were the USL D-3 Pro League Northern Division Champions. Leszek also coached the 2005 squad, which was the USL Second Division regular season champion. The Pioneers lost in the finals that season.

The current Pioneers players will be back in action on Friday night when they host G.P.S. Portland at Lusitano Stadium at 7:30 pm. It’s a very important early season match-up for the Pioneers.      

Edu Zurita