TOWNSEND — The North Middlesex boys soccer team resides in one of the toughest leagues in the state with powerful Algonquin, Leominster and a budding giant in Wachusett. But the Patriots enter the 2010 season with a number of building blocks in place and the combination of experience and some promising newcomers bodes well as they look to climb the ladder after finishing 4-13-1 last season. A number of players put considerable time playing over the summer in laying a foundation for the upcoming season.
“We have a team of kids this season who want it,” said veteran coach Pen Burnham. “We are hoping that an extra year of experience under our belts turns some of the close losses into wins. Our goal is to compete every game and to make as few mistakes as possible and we are entering the season with an air of optimism in place.”
The roster features plenty of familiar faces and the Patriots appear strong in the defensive end. Backstopping the defense will be senior goaltender Scott Cavanaugh, who provides experience at a crucial position.
“Scott is very competitive and he is one of the best captains I have ever had,” said Burnham. “He plays with heart, never quits and can be counted on to give 100 percent effort. He is consistent and is well-respected by his teammates.”
The defensive starters in front of Cavanaugh figure to be senior Justin Dellacanonica at sweeper, juniors Drew Donovan and Brian Bourgeois at fullbacks, and junior Dylan Kimbar at stopper.
“Justin is the leader of our defense,” said Burnham. “He is reliable and fast and has the ability to catch up to an opponent. He communicates well and has a strong kick. Drew and Brian are similar players as they are both tough and physical and are good at getting the ball into transition. Both of them head the ball well and have good speed. Dylan was our sweeper last season and he has great size and a strong kick. He sees the field well and has the ablity to be a playmaker with his ability to distribute the ball.”
Adding depth in the defensive end will be juniors Zach Miller and Matt Brown.
“Zach is strong and fast and he stepped up for us last season,” said Burnham. “He continues to gain confidence. Matt has shown improvement since last season and he should be a solid contributor off the bench.”
The midfield contingent appears deep, talented and versatile.
The starting inside midfielders will be senior captain Drew Dion and senior John Nelson.
“Drew is a great athlete and was a MidWach League and Central Mass. All-Star last season,” said Burnham. “He is an unselfish player and can contribute offensively with his scoring and passing. He has speed and strength, excellent ball skills and makes big plays for us. John is versatile and could play anywhere. He worked hard on his game in the off-season and has been impressive. He is in great physical condition and he has really worked on his stamina.”
Four returning players provide strength on the outside — seniors Erik Clement and captain Matt Foley, and juniors Asa Okerman and Steve Valacer.
“Erik came off the bench last season and he has good speed and he has improved with hard work in the off-season,” said Burnham. “Matt is versatile and can play either the inside or outside. He has great size and he has really improved as he is faster and much more aware this season. Asa was a part-time starter last season and he has great skills. He is very talented and he will start somewhere. Steve came off the bench last season and he is very skilled and is bigger this season. He is tough, fast and skilled, he sees the field well and is an excellent passer.”
The team picked up a talented newcomer at midfield in transfer Alex Dellacanonica.
“Alex is physical, hard-nosed and never gives up on a play,” said Burnham. “He has good size; he’s a fiery competitor and he provides a presence on the field.
“I like the versatility of our midfielders,” said Burnham. “Most of them could play forward and they provide me with a lot of options. A lot of good passes have originated from our midfielders so far.”
The starters at forward will be sophomore Steve Julius and senior Chris Winton.
“Steve is much quicker this year and he has a strong and accurate shot,” said Burnham. “He is a quick learner and he finishes well. We are looking for production from him. Chris was a part-time starter last season and he is experienced, fast and quick. He also has the versatility to play midfield.”
A pair of junior transfers are pressing for time up front — Dominic Ciccone and Augusto Scheid.
“Dominic is very talented and has speed, great moves and solid instincts,” said Burnham. “Augusto is quiet and does what he is asked to do. He has excellent ball skills, he sees the field well and does a nice job of distributing. Both Dominic and Augusto are huge additions.”
What are the Patriots’ strengths heading into the season?
“We have an experienced goaltender who has shown he can make the big save,” said Burnham. “We have a defense that has returned intact and our midfield is deep and provides a lot of options. We have some interesting newcomers who bring a lot of skills with them. I think we have a couple of impact players, and having last season under our belts should be beneficial.
“My concerns are staying healthy and the tough league we play in,” said Burnham.