Pioneers Lose in PKs to Lions

By Tim Peterson

Turley Publications Sports Correspondent

LUDLOW—The last time that the Western Mass. Pioneers were invited to participated in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which features amateur and professional soccer teams from throughout the United States, was in 2014. The Pioneers came from behind to defeat GPS Massachusetts in a first round home match that season before being defeated on the road in the second round by the Rochester Rhinos in overtime.

This year’s Open Cup first round match was also a very frustrating one for the Pioneers players and their faithful supporters. The Boston City F.C. Lions advanced into the second round with a 2-2 (5-4 penalty shootout) win before a large crowd at historic Lusitanio Stadium, last Wednesday evening.

“Whenever a soccer match is decided in penalties, it always comes down to luck. We just didn’t have the luck tonight,” said Pioneers head coach Federico Molinari. “It’s always disappointing whenever you lose, but we just have to move forward.”  

The first ever meeting between the Intra-State rivals was a very tough physical battle. Referee Randall Kelley handed out numerous yellow cards and a total of four red cards. By the end of the second 15-minute overtime period, the Pioneers had a 10-8 advantage, but it really didn’t help them very much.

“The Open Cup is a great competition to be in and it’s very difficult losing in the first round because we’ve been training very hard for it during the past couple of weeks,” said Pioneers midfielder Evan Burokas, who also was a member of the Pioneers 2014 team. “We just have to learn from our mistakes and we’re hoping to make the P.D.L. playoffs again this year.”  

A year ago, the Pioneers lost to Reading United, 3-1, in an Eastern Conference first round match.

The majority of the Pioneers players, who played in that match last July, played in last Wednesday’s Open Cup home match.

One of the Pioneers newcomers is Mike Goncalves, who graduated from Ludlow High School in 2015. He scored a total 34 goals and had 12 assists for a total of 46 points during his outstanding high school career.

“It’s very special to be playing for this soccer team in your hometown,” said Goncalves, who’s a forward. “I’ve known Federico for a very long time and he asked me if I wanted to join the team this year. It’s an honor to play for him.”

In the middle of the opening half, Goncalves, who’s currently a student at UMass Amherst, had a golden opportunity to give his team a 1-0 advantage. His chip shot from the top of the 18-yard box just sailed high over the crossbar.

It was the best scoring chance by either side during the first 45 minutes of the contest.    

The Pioneers did take a 1-0 lead five minutes into the second half when Burokas sent a pass to Goncalves, who blasted a shot into the back of the net past Boston City keeper Vitor Scariot.

“It felt very good to score the goal at the start of the second half,” Goncalves said. “We just didn’t get the result that we really wanted tonight.”  

A couple of minutes later, a shot attempt taken by Pioneers midfielder Matt Moore deflected off the near post.

With less than twenty minutes remaining in regulation time, Jhonata Batista scored the equalizer for Boston City by putting a low shot into the right corner past Pioneers keeper Carson D’Ambrosio.

Nick Zucco, who also graduated from Ludlow High School a couple of years ago, was the Pioneers starting keeper a year ago, but he didn’t return this year.

About 50 seconds into the first 15-mintue overtime period, Burokas, who hails from Auburn Mass., gave his team a 2-1 lead by firing a low shot into the left corner following a feed from Pioneers team captain Maxi Viera.

“Maxi had the ball at the end line and I saw some open space in the middle of 18-yard box,” Burokas said. “It felt very nice to retake the lead, but you just have to stay mentally focused in overtime.”

Early in the second overtime period, a header by Kamali Webson, which was assisted by Kevin Herrera, tied the score at 2-2.

The contest remained tied and the final outcome was decided in a penalty shootout.

The Pioneers first two PK’s were made by Carlos Ruiz and Pierre Villez. The third attempt by Viera was saved by Scariot.

It turned out to be the difference maker, as the Lions took a 3-2 lead when Gabriel De Souza made his PK.

The Pioneers final two shots were made by Burokas and Lasse Orlik, but a shot into the right corner by Herrera sealed the deal for Boston City. The Lions players celebrated in the middle of the field with their rowdy supporters.

It wasn’t the way the Pioneers wanted to begin their 2017 campaign.

The Pioneers, who lost to Seacoast United, 2-0, on the road in the P.D.L. opener last Saturday night, are scheduled to host the Westchester Flames in the home opener at 4pm on Sunday afternoon.

Evan Burokas