A speedy Marlborough Panthers team beat Bromfield 3-1 in a home matchup at Harvard Park last Friday afternoon, Oct. 9. For the Trojans, three-time MIAA Division 4 state champions, it was their first game of the season, and the first played under new MIAA COVID-19 rules.
Bromfield’s offense dominated for the first 10 minutes of play, but despite numerous opportunities was unable to score. Panther senior Diego De Almeida scored first, late in the first quarter, in a counterattack that left senior goalie Ethan Fitzsimmons exposed with no defending players. The white-shirted Panthers scored again in the second quarter, and once more in the final fourth. Bromfield’s one goal came in the second quarter, scored by sophomore Liam Morrison with an assist by junior Ryan McNulty.
“It was a good test for us,” said Coach Alex Horne. “It ... establishes a foundation and [tells us] where we need to go from here.” It was also the first time Bromfield had faced the Panthers, traditionally a Midland-Wachusett B League and MIAA Division 1 team. Prior to the current season, the Bromfield boys soccer team has been a Mid-Wach D and Division 4 squad, competing against schools of a similar size.
In this year of COVID-19, however, the athletic directors of the 26 school districts that make up the Mid-Wach League voted to scrap its five divisions and to sort teams into so-called pods based on driving distance and the strength of their programs. Bromfield’s Mid-Wach pod includes Marlborough High School, Nashoba Regional High School, Hudson High School, Maynard High School, and Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) of Marlborough. None are members of Mid-Wach D, and AMSA has chosen not to field a soccer team this fall.
Friday’s game was Bromfield’s first played under new COVID-19 rules set by the MIAA and the state departments of public health and elementary and secondary education. These require the players to wear masks at all times. Headers, throw-ins, and corner kicks are prohibited, as is any physical contact between players. For penalties of all kinds, the injured team is awarded an indirect kick.
Hearing a referee whistle a “COVID infraction” was a new experience for players and coaches alike at Friday’s game. Referees told the Press that the banning of head shots was causing players to kick higher when fielding a ball in flight, exposing a contesting player to injury.
Coach Horne said that masks posed the greatest difficulty. “It definitely limits [a player’s] oxygen flow,” he said, and they are more easily fatigued. But rules against physical contact of any kind are also a problem, he said, because they were so frequently violated, intentionally or not. “We talk often about developing a rhythm in a game; whistles stop that abruptly.” By the time the team reestablishes a rhythm following a penalty kick, “the whistle blows,” said Horne. “That’s definitely something that hurt us today, so we’re gonna have to work on that.”
The boys soccer team was scheduled to play its next game away at Hudson High School at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15.