SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Somerville head coach George Scarpelli could only shake his head as he talked about the turmoil that his team has faced this season. Scarpelli was speaking before his squad faced fellow top five team Masconomet Wednesday at Dilboy Stadium.
From the start of training, the well-publicized allegations against several Highlanders’ J.V. players have placed a cloud over the program. Yet, the team has succeeded on the field. But coming into Wednesday’s game, Somerville was preparing to play against one of the top teams in the state without seven of its starters, who were missing from both injury and internal discipline.
By the end of the game, Scarpelli was shaking his head again after his inexperienced crew held off a formidable challenge from Masco. A strong performance by senior keeper Luis Guerra and a second-half goal by senior Luis Salguero pushed the Highlanders to a 2-1 victory in an entertaining, end-to-end contest.
“It’s been tough…mentally, physically…I’ve said to people that we haven’t even put together two practices as a whole team to actually physically train together as team,” reflected Scarpelli after his team held on for the victory. “One thing that I was nervous about on this team was depth, but the good thing is that we saw some pieces that can now fill in.”
Masco started the game strongly, as Somerville’s inexperience showed in the opening minutes. The Highlanders were forced to scramble away a corner in the opening minute and Masco senior midfielder Adam Grammer forced Guerra into a good save with his legs. After that save, Somerville started to gain control through senior captain Francisco Neto.
In the 15th minute, Neto earned a free kick from 25 yards out that the midfielder then curled towards the top corner. Masco keeper Willie Stewart got across to palm it away for a Highlanders corner. Neto played the ensuing corner into the box where Jonathan Figueroa hit the bouncing ball on the volley to open the scoring.
The Chieftains came right back, but Guerra saved at the feet of Edison Forbes. Guerra was forced into several great saves in the first half as Masco pressed forward and he was quickly off his line to keep Max Craig from getting to a through ball. In the 30th minute, Jeff Panella played in Grammer, who beat the offside trap, and on a two-man breakaway he unselfishly fed Craig, but the senior slid the ball wide of the open net.
It was a moment that could have turned the game and Scarpelli was proud of the way that his team recovered and even created another chance before halftime. Daniel Raphael forced into a sliding block to prevent Salguero doubling the advantage.
“We stuck in there, we hung in there, we didn’t quit, we didn’t lay down and I was nervous after that one play that they missed that we would turtle-up and hang back I give a lot of credit because they pushed forward and kept going,” said Scarpelli.
The second half continued the pattern. Masco would push forward and create chances, but the Chieftains were denied by solid goalkeeping and inability to finish. Stephen Pease missed over the bar from inside the six-yard-box, Grammer had a shot from a corner cleared off the line by Neto and Guerra, and then the captain also had a header saved on a free kick.
Masco head coach David Mitchell rued his team’s missed chances.
“The difference in the game was that they finished their opportunities and we didn’t,” he remarked. “They didn’t get too many looks, I actually think we had more, but we just didn’t have enough composure in the box.”
Scarpelli credited his senior keeper. He noted, “They had the better chances, but Luis came up big with a few huge saves on breakaways and crosses. You can see how he stands out above just about every keeper in the state. He’s so good; it’s impressive. That’s why I’m going to enjoy this last year.”
Somerville continued to look for the second goal that could put the game away, but Salguero again could not keep his shot down off a Neto cross. From the goal kick, Masco had another chance, but again Grammer was unable to finish a breakaway as Jose Ayala slid in to clear the ball off the line. Two minutes later, the lead was doubled.
Salguero took a feed from Neto and this time planted an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner to make it 2-0. Instead of sending Somerville to an easy win, however, the Highlanders backed off for a second and Grammer’s flick eluded Elliot Rippe straight into the path of Craig, who finally was able to finish a breakaway and get Masco back within one.
In the end, Masco pressed but could not find the equalizer. Mitchell was pleased with the performance of his team in a state tournament atmosphere, despite the defeat, “Adam created some good stuff, Max Craig played well up top just distributing balls, and Jeff Panella – I don’t think he missed a ball in the air all day. We’re a good team on the attack; I’m just disappointed that we didn’t finish the chances that we created.”
There was relief from the Somerville players with one player commenting that he could not believe that they had won. It was another positive sign for Scarpelli that his team is capable of going all the way.
“We had three J.V. players starting that game and you wouldn’t know where there were, so I’m proud of them,” he remarked. “These are the games we have to see…that prepare you for the state tournament.”