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AYER — From a very early age, Ayer-Shirley senior captain Ryan Goodman realized that soccer was the first sport he ever fell in love with, and that love to this day has not faded.

Goodman reflected back to when he was younger and got called up to play with the older kids. “I started realizing that I loved the game once I was called up a few times during rec leagues when I was 7, to play with the 10-year-olds. That made me feel that I was pretty good at this,” said Goodman.

Walking out behind the high school adjacent to the football stadium is a soccer pitch nestled near the woods. Goodman can be seen coaching up his fellow players at the first sign of confusion. He does not care too much for the seniority hierarchy that some high school players tend to fall into.

As practice came to a close Tuesday afternoon, Goodman without hesitation gathered all the soccer balls and penny jerseys, and began to walk towards first-year head coach Mike Donahue’s car. Donahue hollered to him “Let someone else take care of that.” Goodman is a natural-born leader, dedicated to doing whatever he can to help his team, on-and-off the field, even if that means helping put away the equipment.

Goodman realizes that all 11 players are equally important to the team’s success. He is a versatile player with a bevy of experience at various positions. The Panthers like him at goalie due to his surplus of time on the backline. “I played pretty much everything from forward to center-mid to goalie,” said Goodman. “This coach likes me at goal. With the experience at the back, it works better.”

When the Panthers face any type of adversity on the field, Goodman is the man they turn to, and for the right reason. If there was a clear-cut blueprint for how a captain should act, Goodman embodies all the qualities. “I go over and talk to them like I have done it before. I have done plenty of things wrong,” said Goodman. “I try and go out there and not just be a captain and a leader, but be a friend to them.”

The Panthers have faced some adversity this season with a lack of depth on the bench, but Goodman believes that this team still possesses a lot of talent. “All I expect is 110 percent effort, because we do have some talent,” said Goodman. “Defense on this team is pretty solid. With the two sophomore forwards we have, I think this team will be pretty decent in the next couple years.”

When Goodman learned that the team was lacking in numbers, he took it upon himself to do some recruiting to help his team, not only in the short-term, but for the long-haul as well. Donahue sees his senior captain as an on-field coach. During the summer, Goodman took the initiative to contact Donahue to see if there was anything he could do to help make his first season as head coach smoother.

Goodman has the maturity of a coach coupled with the mindset of a competitor. Donahue could not be more thankful for his captain’s team-first mentality. “He’s an absolute leader. For as long as I have been coaching, he is in the top two or three captains I have ever had,” said Donahue with a smile. “Every day, he tries to help. He really is like having another coach out there on the field.”

Days off are not an option for Goodman. He has missed just one practice this season, and that was because he went home sick from school. “There is a phrase I always tell all my captains: You herd sheep, you drive cattle, but you lead people. And he does that. There is no captain-itis, no coasting, he just works hard every day.”

In the game of soccer, communication is huge. Goodman keeps the chatter going on the pitch to ensure each of his teammates are in the best position possible. Natural-born leaders always find a way to win. During practice drills and games, Goodman is consistently surprising his coach with his strong ability to think on his feet. He is a coach’s dream with his willingness to take direction, lead and execute.

“If you were doing a television show about high-school soccer captains, you would end it with him,” joked Donahue.