BURLINGTON — The Burlington High boys’ soccer team is as happy as any to get back to work, this fall, even if the restrictions put in place in order for soccer to be played work against the Red Devils’ defensive style.
While scoring was inconsistent for Burlington for much of the last decade, defense has been solid virtually the whole way through.
One of the new restrictions for soccer is no deliberate contact with opposing players, which will make it much more difficult for the Devils to do what they do well.
“With the new rules it will limit how we can challenge the ball, which is one of our strengths,” said Burlington coach Matt Jackling. “It will be a different kind of season with the new rules, but right now we just care about getting one in.”
Another rule change that will make it more difficult to defend is that players can no longer head the ball. Other rule changes included no more corner kicks and no more throw-ins, both of which will now become indirect kicks.
Goalies can not send the ball in the air past midfield, whether it is by punting, tossing or kicking, and the game will now be split into 20-minute quarters, in part to give the players relief as they will have to wear masks while they are involved on the field.
For all of the rule changes, and they are numerous, the complete list can be found on the MIAA website.
The season will consist of 10 games, two each against teams from Middlesex League Freedom, to be played on consecutive weekends. For instance, the Devils play Wilmington this Saturday and again, next Saturday. Games will be played on eight consecutive Saturdays in all, along with Columbus Day and Veterans’ Day.
When you look at Burlington, it most always starts with defense. This year, the Devils are led by senior co-captains Sean Theurer, Max Lechner and Kevin Mahoney, all three of whom will start on defense.
Theurer is in his third season as a starter and is a returning Middlesex League Freedom All-Star. Lechner and Kevin Mahoney and Mahoney are also third-year starters.
The goalkeeping situation is a battle between a returning player and a first-year player. Senior Liam Gaffney will be the starter and he will be pushed by newcomer C.J. Hacker.
The Devils are also going to be strong in the midfield, and it will be counted on both to transition the ball up the field, as well as being the engine that generates the offense.
The midfield group includes juniors Betoya Bundu, Ethan Baldissera, and Juan Sambrano, all of whom are returning from last year’s team.
“They are going to serve as the backline of our offense,” said Jackling. “We are comfortable with them in that role.”
Burlington had an incredibly hard time scoring goals the past two years, so perhaps the new restrictions can help jump-start the scoring attack. At this point, Jackling is not mentioning any of his striker candidates, a sign they are going to have to earn their ink.
“With the new rules, theoretically we are expecting to see a lot more scoring chances,” said Jackling. “So we are going to try and get our guys up and attacking as much as we can.”
As far as the new rules are concerned, the Devils are focused more on getting the basic drills down and finding their shape. When the game begins, Saturday morning, they will try and feel their way through and adapt.
“We are working on our progressions until we see it,” said Jackling. “We are kind of guessing what it will be like until we see a game live. It’s all about adapting.”
The first game against the Wildcats on Saturday (9 a.m.) will be at Varsity Field, with the junior varsity playing at the same time at Brush Field. Burlington will travel to Veterans Field for the rematch, a week from Saturday.