WESTBOROUGH — Jose Ceja saw the open space before anyone else.
The left side of the Westborough defense had pushed up past midfield, so Marlborough’s Ceja crept up the opposite side. He took quick, little steps inward, and then he darted downfield like a deer.
Gabriel Gomes had just played a slick pass to the feet of ArmandoCanela , who took one touch to settle it and snapped a curling pass with the outside of his foot that sent the streaking Ceja into a clear breakaway. Ceja scored easily to give Marlborough the eventual 2-1 win on Tuesday.
The soccer is executed smoothly, the passes quick and seamless, with one-two combinations completed in tiny pockets of space. Of all styles of soccer, this might be the most heavily reliant upon clear communication.
Of the 18 players on the Panthers’ soccer team, roughly half of them speak Spanish as a first language. The execution is perplexing to onlookers yet simple to those performing. And the players are often speaking three languages at once.
“A lot of these kids come from diverse backgrounds,” said longtime Marlborough skipper Steve Bishop. “We have a mix of American kids, Mexican-American kids, kids from Honduras, kids from Brazil. But they leave the stereotypes at the door when they walk on the field. Everyone is treated the same and everyone wants to win.
“In a coaching career, this comes across once in a lifetime. From a team perspective, you just don’t get too many opportunities to get a group of kids like this.”
The South American game of soccer is a much different style than what many high school teams in Massachusetts are used to. The ball is almost always on the ground, players rarely take more than a few touches, the passes are quick, and the combinations are frequent.
Bang, bang, bang, boom — three quick passes and a shot on goal — is the ideal outcome.
The style takes an unusual player, one who has had advanced training in technical skills and has a mind for soccer that can think two or three plays ahead.
And with the Panthers’ unexpected 11-2-2 start, with wins over Algonquin and Worcester North — two of the highest-rated teams in Central Massachusetts — the artistry has been on display all season.
“They play some real nice stuff,” conceded Westborough coach Michael Griffin. “There aren’t too many teams that play on the floor in this league. They do. They have so many South Americans, it’s part of their culture to play like that. That’s what I want to see as a coach.”
Marlborough athletic director Jeff Rudzinsky said it’s not unusual to find players in the local parks still kicking a ball around after team practices are over. He said Marlborough High is one of the more diverse schools — the 2009 Super Bowl-winning football team had players representing six nations — but the soccer team’s culture is an unusual one.
“It enables the kids to understand that it doesn’t matter what language you speak,” he said. “And it’s pretty cool when you talk to some of these guys at the end of the year and their English is so much better.”
For Bishop, communicating has been a slight challenge, but one easily beatable. He often uses hand signals or asks other players to help explain drills.
“We’re all translators,” said Gomes, a 5-foot-2 senior midfielder with pure touch and suave passing. “It’s stressful sometimes, but we get through it. In the beginning of the season, we weren’t talking. But we learned our lesson. We clicked and we turned into a team.”
It’s not always smooth. During a set piece in Tuesday’s game, four players stood around the ball in confusion before Bishop yelled to Canela to “come up with a plan.”
But the players don’t mind helping one another out.
“We’re all family,” said Canela, a senior who distributes and commands from central midfield like a general. “We make sure everyone understands what we’re working on. We learned that communication is key to everything.”
On the field, “Aqui, aqui” — Spanish for “Here, here” — could be heard on the sideline as someone screams, “Switch fields,” from the defensive end. When Bishop hollers out commands, it’s unclear who hears or understands him.
After Tuesday’s game, the players packed up their bags and walked to the bus. Everyone was smiling. For once, no translation was needed.
L-S girls’s good start
The Lincoln-Sudbury girls’ soccer team is off to a 12-0 start under coach Kate Berry
. Senior Cassidy Boegel
(12 goals, nine assists) and sophomore Hannah Rosenblatt (eight goals, six assists) have formed a dynamic scoring duo up top, sophomore Megan Addeo has provided a boost from the outside midfield, and junior Eliza Guild
has anchored a tough defense in front of senior goalie Katie Sia
. Everything has been working for the Warriors, who have averaged almost four goals per game. “This group is an interesting group,” Berry said. “They enjoy each other’s company and they have fun with one another, but when they come to play, it’s all business.”
After starting the season 2-2, the Wellesley boys’ soccer team ripped off nine straight wins, outscoring opponents 30-7 during the streak. Junior captain Ryan Stuntz has delivered poise and intelligence from the central defense, and the return of junior Tyler Kuchenbecker (11 goals, eight assists) to the offense has boosted the surging Raiders.
“He’s been brilliant,” second-year coach Tim Mason said of Kuchenbecker. “He missed the two games we lost and that was a big factor why. He’s got every attribute you need to be a good attacker.”
The Raiders lost 11 seniors from last year’s squad and Mason figured there would be growing pains, but the defensive cohesiveness has made it easy to succeed by working from the back and out of Mason’s 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formations.