Belmont second-year boys’ soccer coach Niman Kenkre fondly recalls coaching his son, Sachil, on the ‘orange’ team from kindergarten through second grade in the town’s youth soccer program.
Sachil, a junior attacking midfielder, sported an orange wristband to symbolize his former team as he walked to midfield with a member of the youth soccer program during Saturday’s ‘Soccer Night in Belmont.’
“For our players to reconnect with their roots, it was an amazing experience for them,” said the elder Kenkre. “It was unbelievable. I can’t even describe it. I really felt chills just watching it.”
The seventh ‘Soccer Night in Belmont’ was hosted at the high school Saturday night as 2,500 people were treated to Marauders’ boys’ and girls’ matches against Middlesex rival Watertown.
Under the lights, the rivalry games were far from the average regular-season contest.
A special Puma ball awaited the referees on a podium prior to kickoff. Champion Sporting Goods in Belmont donated T-shirts, which were hurled into the crowd during halftime. 35 flags representing the nationality of each player were prominently displayed. The middle school choruses from Belmont and Watertown sang the national anthem as the police department and local boy scouts assumed the role of the color guard.
Youth players stood hand-in-hand with the high school players they hope to one day emulate. At halftime, 300 youth soccer players competed in 10-minute cross-field games, equipped with popup nets as the school band performed in the stands.
The winning teams were presented with the Phoenix Cup, a three-foot tall trophy with past winners engraved, proudly displayed at Phoenix Landing in Cambridge. The players of the match received cleats.
“We try to make it as close to a World Cup Final as possible in a high school stadium with a budget of $2,000,” said Rob Gray, a co-founder of the event.
Gray and co-founder John Carson first met at Mothers and More, a playgroup for young children. Carson’s son, Jake, starred at Belmont and played at Holy Cross and Courtney, Gray’s eldest daughter, was a prolific goal scorer on the girls’ team before captaining the women’s team at Bates. The two have fostered a relationship through their childrens’ soccer journeys and co-running the event. Bridget, Gray’s youngest daughter and a senior captain for the Marauders, is Carson’s goddaughter.
The lightbulb moment occurred when Carson attended a soccer booster event and the soccer team was denied a request for a night game. Carson and Gray wanted the soccer programs to have a Friday Night Lights experience like the football team.
“It started out as a way to give Jake and Courtney a game under the lights with fans,” said Carson. “If you were to say to me seven years ago that 2,500 people were going to a high school soccer game, I’d say that you were crazy.”
On Saturday, Belmont emerged victorious in the girls’ game, 4-1, with freshman striker Danica Zicha netting three goals. In the boys’ match, a 0-0 draw was broken unofficially in penalty kicks, as Watertown grinded out a 3-2 decision (a tie for MIAA purposes). Senior goaltender Isaiah Etienne saved two penalty kicks by diving to his right.
The #Raiders boys soccer team defeated #Belmont in a shootout on Saturday night during the 7th annual Soccer night in Belmont! #Watertown's Rob Iannetta delivered the game-winning kick, and goalie Isaiah Etienne tallied 10 saves. @WatertownSports pic.twitter.com/EJmTPlFICM— Watertown Cable News (@WCN_Watertown) September 19, 2022
“It was pretty memorable for everyone involved,” said Watertown boys’ coach Frank Cacia. “It’s something that we want to keep going. The one takeaway for me is unity. You bring these communities together and something incredibly special occurred.”
The evening serves as a pillar of the community, uniting high school sports with youth programs.
“Having such a positive experience for our town, I think sports sometimes bring people together when they never have that opportunity,” Belmont athletic director Adam Pritchard. “We have such great people in our community. To share that with our neighbor, it’s something that other towns should try.”
Teams across the Middlesex League have embraced the idea. Melrose is hosting its fourth ‘Soccer Night in Melrose’ Friday, and Arlington hosts its inaugural soccer night Saturday, hosting Belmont.
“It’s great to promote the game of soccer,” said Arlington boys’ coach Lance Yodzio. “It makes the game a little bit more special than a regular season game.”
▪ The 16th Kicks For Cancer event is scheduled Saturday at Concord-Carlisle. Started in 2007 by C-C coach Ray Pavlik, the event honors the life of Lois Wells — the mother of two Patriot soccer alums Dan and Steve Wells — who died of ovarian cancer in 2007.
All proceeds from the sale of tickets, T-shirts, and concessions go directly to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
There are 20 events scheduled for Saturday, including field hockey, volleyball, girls’ soccer, and boys’ soccer. On the boys’ soccer side, the day kicks off with a pair of 10 a.m. matches pitting Wakefield vs. Burlington and Needham vs. Milton. The other games are Waltham vs. Boston Latin (12:15 p.m.), Reading vs. Woburn (12:15 p.m.), Brookline vs. Newton North (2:30 p.m.), Acton-Boxborough vs. Westford (2:30 p.m.), Newton South vs. Cambridge (4 p.m.), Bedford vs. Wayland (7 p.m.), and Concord-Carlisle vs. Lincoln-Sudbury (7 p.m.).
▪ Weymouth’s hot start continued with a 2-1 win over previously top-ranked Brookline on Thursday. The Wildcats (6-0) followed that by defeating an always-strong Cohasset program, 4-0. Those wins catapulted Weymouth from No. 19 to No. 9 in this week’s Globe’s Top 20. For a program that has made the state tournament 33 years in a row, not only does that streak look intact, but the Wildcats appear to be Division 1 contenders in the early going . . . Cambridge recorded a tie in each of its first four matches, but finally broke through with a win in Saturday’s 5-0 shutout of Burke . . . It was quite the week for Bishop Feehan players Zach Caisse and Jon Mignacca. In Monday’s 5-0 win over Bishop Fenwick, Caisse, a sophomore, scored a career-high four goals. Mignacca then matched him two days later, scoring four goals in Wednesday’s 7-2 win over Cardinal Spellman. Nate Monteiro scored both Spellman goals, including a spectacular rocket launched from the 25-yard line into the left corner of the net. The Shamrocks entered Tuesday ranked second in EMass in goals scored (20), trailing only Gloucester (22).
Games to watch
Tuesday, No. 1 St. John’s Prep at No. 10 St. John’s Shrewsbury, 4 p.m. — Both sides enter this early season Catholic Conference showdown undefeated.
Wednesday, Newton South at No. 13 Concord-Carlisle, 4:30 p.m. — Concord-Carlisle has won three straight after an 0-1-1 start; Newton South is 3-0-1 in the Dual County League.
Thursday, No. 11 Brookline at No. 2 Needham, 4 p.m. — Needham opens the week with a matchup Tuesday against reigning Division 1 finalist Newton North before welcoming reigning D1 champion Brookline for a big Bay State tilt.
Saturday, No. 18 Newburyport at Hamilton-Wenham, 2 p.m. — The Clippers have outscored opponents 14-1 during a 4-0 start, but face a tough Cape Ann test against a Generals side that is 3-0.
Saturday, No. 20 Bedford vs. No. 12 Wayland — The nightcap at Kicks for Cancer in Concord features two of the best from the Dual County League.
Correspondent Matt Doherty contributed to this story.
Cam Kerry can be reached at email@example.com.