In a showing of tremendous sportsmanship ahead of the Saugus boys soccer season opener at home against John Burroughs High School on Thursday, both teams observed a moment of silence at midfield and released five balloons honoring the victims of last week’s tragic events.
“Obviously, like we have been saying, we are playing for a lot more than ourselves this season,” said Saugus head coach Seth Groller. “Sports has a way of getting us through some difficult times and my players, even in practice, before this they were just looking to get back on the field and playing this scrimmage.
“I’m glad that we still had it. It’s not easy with what the players, coaches and the community is going through, but that’s what I love about sports. The sportsmanship from Burroughs, I can’t say enough about their organization and their head coach Mike Adame, just a class act all the way.”
The game got off to a fast start as both goalkeepers were tested early. Winning a ball in Saugus territory, Centurion defender Roger Fandino tried to clear the ball, but was cornered and turned the ball over to Burroughs’ David Gerlach, who took a shot from about 20 yards out. Goalie Evan Lambert made the stop and quickly quieted the run.
After the initial scare, Saugus methodically wore the Burroughs’ defense down by scoring three goals in the first half and eventually win 5-1.
Saugus forward Josh Truong netted the first goal eight minutes into the game using a quick touch from a teammate to put Saugus ahead 1-0.
Off a Burroughs corner, Elias Galaviz rushed to the near post and tried to flick the ball into the Cents’ goal, but once again, Lambert came up with the save.
As the first half moved on, Saugus began to possess the ball more and more due to the abilities of sophomores Connor Claborn and Alex Fryer, two key pieces from last year’s team.
“Connor and Alec are two just dynamic players and they control the middle of the field and really are the playmakers for the team,” Groller said. “There’s so much that they do on and off the ball that just puts us in a good position.”
Breaking through in the 14th minute of play, Claborn collected a pass from John Kleinfeld inside the Burroughs penalty box and with his back turned to the goal, made a quick turn and scored.
“I knew he crossed it in and I knew I was close,” Claborn said. “I tried to turn the center back and shoot it and that’s what happened.”
While Saugus’ offense was working swiftly and effectively, the defense was just as impactful. Defender Mark Beale added some technical skill and good ball-handling abilities to an already strong backline, occasionally pushing up and giving the Cents’ attack another offensive weapon.
“He really plays more of the wing-back position where he looks for those runs up and is there for us,” Groller said. “Offensively, he makes those nice overlapping runs, but obviously he has the speed and stamina. That’s one of the things that some people overlook, but just his ability to push up and make sure he is sprinting back for us and his movement, it’s just awesome to have him back there for us.”
With under five minutes left in the first half, Saugus’ Alex Nilson scored on a header that was crossed into the penalty box and the Burroughs goalie couldn’t get to in time for the easy tap in.
At the turn, the Braves seemed determined to get back in the game and finally found the opportunity on a rare Saugus mistake. As a Saugus defender tried to make a back pass to the goalie, a Burroughs player stole the ball and put it in the back of the net.
Rebounding quickly, Saugus scored two goals less than a minute apart in the 63rd and 64th minutes. Stealing an errant pass at the edge of the 18-yard box, Fryer faked out three Burroughs defenders to take a 4-1 lead.
Off an ensuing free-kick, Truong found himself all alone in the attacking third and rolled in his second goal of the game to seal the win for Saugus.
“Josh Truong is almost like a false nine because he’s so powerful up there and hold on to the ball for us and release it,” Groller said. “It’s different than last year, for sure, but I think we have the potential to have really do some great things.”
After an emotional win, Beale and Claborn shared just how important this game was for themselves and the team.
“I just tried to give this game up for Gracie,” Beale said. “I’m close friends with Brady (Muehlberger) and I knew Gracie a little bit too. For all the victims it’s just horrible. I tried to work hard for them and put all my heart into this game for them.”
“We were obviously playing for the victims and what happened on Thursday, so it was good for us to come out here and play and do it for them,” Claborn said. “It was exciting to win.”