Leo Coelho makes a big impact on the scoresheet, but he pivots between every position on the field for a Milford boys’ soccer program that is off to a 5-0-1 start after last year’s run to the Division 2 state final.
“If we need a goal he goes up, if we are up in the game he stays back,” said Milford first-year-coach Antonio Pinto. “He gives us whatever we need.”
The 5-foot-8-inch Coelho leads the Scarlet Hawks with seven goals and six assists, but he’s just as happy playing lockdown defense, if that’s what the situation calls for.
“All the kids look up to him,” Pinto said. “On the field they know they can rely on him. If they’re under pressure they know they can give him the ball and he’ll come through. Off the field, he loves explaining things to the other kids and giving his two cents.”
The reigning Hockomock League MVP plays a skill-centric game, and says the new rules meant to mitigate COVID-19 risks have made it easier for him to pick apart opponents' backfields.
But the pandemic has also erased Milford’s hopes of finishing last year’s business, after being denied by Winchester in the state final. Because of the pandemic, the MIAA tournament has been canceled.
So Coelho and Co. are shooting for an unbeaten season. Before the Hawks' upcoming matchup against Mansfield, he chatted with the Globe.
What has it been like to adjust to [COVID-19 modifications]?
“Especially the first couple of games it was, it was hard. The first game we played, it was like 20 stoppages in five minutes. It was like a whole other sport. So it’s frustrating, but we got through all the rules now. And we’re comfortable with it and we’ve adjusted to them. And I think we’re perfectly fine with how the rules are right now.”
How do the new rules affect your game, as an individual player?
"We’re very technical. We like to play the ball on the ground, and play fancy. To be honest, when teams can’t touch me, it’s better for me, because I can just run around them, and do really whatever I want.
“So if they just touched me, it’s a foul. And it’s frustrating for them. But for our team defending it’s frustrating, because some of our players don’t know what to do, because you can’t really step in or give contact at all. But, yeah, it definitely helps us in a way.”
Why do you change positions so often?
“Whatever the game needs, is really where I tell coach to put me because at the end of the day, I don’t care about stats. I don’t care about none of that. I just want to help the team win. So if I have to play defense, I’ll play defense, I don’t care.
“If we’re up 2-1 and coach says, ‘Go to defense to close the game down,’ I’ll go to defense. And I’ll play the position with total confidence.”
How did you stay sharp during the long shutdown during the spring and summer?
“Me and my friends would go to the field a lot. It wasn’t like 10 people, it was just me and a couple of my friends just to make sure that we were running and like touching the ball, because during the spring time was very tough. It was to stay home every single day."
Without a state championship this season, what is your motivation as a team?
“We want to get another undefeated season. And if we do that, then I feel like everybody on the team will be satisfied with how the season went on.”
Is it disappointing that you can’t compete for a title after getting so close last year?
“Last year, it was tough after the loss, but we don’t think about it now. Just because we feel like we did everything we could’ve last year, we went the whole way undefeated. Last season was like a perfect season. And there was one game that we just got unlucky.
“All the young players are thankful for that season, because it is really putting the Milford soccer program really high. So the young kids are all confident now. There’s so many young kids on our team who are first-year varsity players, and we’re still having success. Hopefully moving along the years, even when I’m out of school, Milford will still have that same success.”
▪ Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Kicks for Cancer event went virtual. A week ago Saturday, Bedford hosted Wayland to kick off the event. And last Saturday, Concord-Carlisle, the traditional host, welcomed Dual County League rival Lincoln-Sudbury. Reading and Boston Latin also played its Kicks for Cancer game as an intrasquad scrimmage. In normal years, the Kicks for Cancer event takes place in Concord with a full slate of boys' and girls' games over a one-day period.
At Bedford, more than $8,000 was raised for Dana Farber cancer research. Prior to kickoff in the match against Wayland, Bedford held a pregame ceremony to honor Jeff Hoyland, a 1979 alum who became a fixture within the community through his Bedford Snapshots Facebook page. Hoyland passed in July at the age of 59 from cancer.
“We were happy to do it and it means a lot to us,” said Bedford coach Gunnar Olson. “Jeff meant a lot to the community and he was a great human being and dedicated a lot of time to us.”
▪ Medway striker Christian Perugini is off to a blazing start this fall with seven goals and eight assists through six games for the Mustangs (4-0-2). The senior, who plays club for the Boston Bolts, recorded a hat trick in the the first game of the season and rattled off subsequent games with three and four assists, respectively.
▪ Norwell continues to roll through the South Shore League, evidenced by Thursday’s convincing 4-1 win over annual Div. 4 power Cohasset. During its 7-0 start, the Clippers have outscored opponents, 37-3. Norwell will play Hull, Abington, and East Bridgewater this week as it aims to close out a perfect 10-0 regular season.
Games to watch
Wednesday, Oliver Ames at Canton, 6:15 p.m. — A pair of unbeaten teams square off in a Hockomock League crossover match under the lights.
Thursday, Newton North at Needham, 6:30 p.m. — The reigning EMass Division 1 champions look to continue their strong start in the Bay State Conference with a pair of matchups this week against North.
Friday, Hingham at Silver Lake, 4 p.m. — After a season-opening loss to Marshfield, the Harbormen (4-1-1) haven’t lost and currently are in the midst of the Patriot League Keenan Division title race with the Lakers (3-1-1).
Friday, St. John’s Prep at Xaverian, 5 p.m. — First place in the Catholic Conference is on the line in this rivalry matchup. Prep won the first meeting of the season, 1-0, in Danvers on Oct. 14.
Saturday, Medway at Holliston, 11 a.m. — Both high-powered, Tri-Valley League offenses sit at 4-0-2 heading into a pair of weekend matchups.
Globe Correspondent Matthew Doherty contributed to this report.