Pioneers Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

Host Westchester this Friday


By Tim Peterson

Turley Publications Sports Correspondent


LUDLOW—With two players suspended and a couple of others sidelined with injuries, the Western Mass. Pioneers really needed a spark entering the home stretch of the regular season.


That spark was provided by none other than Alencar Junior, who was added to the Western Mass. Pioneers roster earlier in the week. The prolific goal scorer tallied 21 goals in 15 matches for the Pioneers between the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.


In the Pioneers first meeting of the season against the Long Island Rough Riders, Junior scored a goal and he also added an assist during the final 20 minutes of the second half sealing the 3-0 shutout victory, which was played under a full moon at historic Lusitano Stadium on Friday night.  


“This was the best game that we’ve played all season long,” said Pioneers head coach Federico Molinari, who has kept in contact with Junior during the past three years. “The whole team was a lot more focused and everyone was fighting for each other on the field tonight.”


Following a disappointing 3-0 home loss against F.C. Boston on July 2, Molinari held a team meeting in the locker room that lasted more than 30 minutes.


“The players and I talked about a lot of different things during that meeting,” Molinari said. “We came out tonight and won this game as a team, which was very nice to see. Whenever you win as a team, it always gives you a lot more confidence.”


The Pioneers (7-3-2) and the Rough Riders (6-2-3), along with F.C. Boston, are all battling for a berth in the upcoming P.D.L. playoffs.

Following the shutout victory, the Pioneers, who now have 23 points, jumped over the Rough Riders, who have 21 points, into second place in the Eastern Conference Northeast Division table. The Rough Riders could move back into second place in the league standings, as they’re slated to face F.C. Boston (6-4-2) in another road match on Saturday night. If F.C. Boston, who has 20 points, wins the match, they’ll be tied with the Pioneers for second place.


In order for the Pioneers to clinch a playoff berth for the second consecutive year, they’ll probably need to get to 27 points (Three points for a win and one for a tie). The Pioneers are schedule to play their final home game of the regular season against the Westchester Flames next Friday night before playing at Long Island next Sunday afternoon in the final match of the regular season. The PDL playoffs will begin on July 18.


“This is a very special win for us,” said Pioneers midfielder Dan Fabian. “I really didn’t know Junior would be returning to our team until Federico emailed the game roster to us earlier in the week. I was very excited when I saw his name listed on the roster and it’s also a very good thing for our team.”  


When Junior, who’s a carpenter in the Boston area, walked onto the artificial turf field prior to the start of Friday night’s match, many of the Pioneers longtime faithful supporters were also very surprised to see him wearing the home white jersey.


“I love this community and I also love playing soccer in this stadium,” Junior said. “I’ve stayed in touch with Federico. He called me this week and asked me if I wanted to rejoin the team. I told him that I was ready to play again. We just played a perfect game as a team and it’s an amazing feeling.”


Molinari was also very glad to have Junior back playing in Ludlow again.


“We needed a couple of players, so Junior came and helped us out,” Molinari said. “I thought he played very well, but his teammates also helped him a lot tonight.”  


The only remaining Pioneers players from the 2014 squad are Maxi Viera, Evan Burokas, and Dan Fabian.


“Junior and I were teammates on the Worcester Hydra in 2012,” Burokas said. “It was very nice playing with him again tonight. He’s always a threat to score a goal, especially if you give him a little bit of open space. He’s a very exciting soccer player for the fans to watch.”            


Viera, who watched the game from the stands, was suspended for the final three regular season matches after receiving a red card against F.C. Boston. Kyle Tomas, who also received a red card in the same match, was suspended for five games by the league.


Pioneers goalie Ben Martinez, who made 11 saves against Long Island, posted his fifth shutout of the season. He received plenty of support from the defensive unit, which was led by Carlos Ruiz, Lassie Orlik, Josh Calderon, and Ben Lamb, who returned to action after missing several matches with an injury.     

The Pioneers took a 1-0 lead during the 19th minute of the opening half when Orlik, who’s from Grasten, Denmark, scored his first goal of the season. The scoring play began with a free kick by Burokas. The ball went to midfielder Pierre Villez, who’s shot attempt was deflected away by Long Island goalie Dylan Castanheira (7 saves), but Orlik, who played college soccer at A.I.C., was in the right spot to knock home the rebound shot.               


“I’m very happy to see Orlik score that goal in the first half,” Molinari said. “Hopefully, it’ll give him a lot more confidence.” 


The Rough Riders did put a lot of pressure on the Pioneers defensive unit during the first 20 minutes of the second half before Junior took over the spotlight.


In the 69th minute, Fabian sent a pass to Junior, who beat a defender down the right side before firing a shot that deflected off the goalie. This time, Villez put the rebound shot into the right corner giving the home team a 2-0 advantage.


Ten minutes later, Junior scored a dazzling goal on a shot into the left corner, which was assisted by Fabian.


It was a great way to cap Junior’s homecoming and the Pioneers also kept their playoff hopes alive a little bit longer.      

Alencar Junior