BURLINGTON — This decade has not exactly been a rollercoaster for the Burlington High boys’ soccer team, but it has seen a slow ascent to the top, followed by a couple of solid seasons, followed by a moderate descent back down to the bottom.
After injuries marred the Red Devils in 2017, things were slow to click in 2018. After a group of players left midway through the season, Burlington coach Matt Jackling had an opportunity to throw his youngest players, which included three freshmen, to the wolves, just to see what they could do.
The young Devils ended the 2018 campaign with just one win and three ties, but they got some valuable experience that will benefit them going forward, starting with this season.
“We had players leave in midseason and that helped us regroup for this year,” said Jackling, whose team is just three years removed from a Middlesex League Freedom title and the best regular season record in the entire league. “They are talented and it was fun to watch them develop over the course of the rest of the season.”
The lone ML Freedom All Star from last year’s squad was goalie Tim Pinkham, who has since graduated. Jackling says the job is still open and the battle is on between the two or three candidates.
Otherwise, the Devils should be pretty strong on defense, led by the return of three starters. Three-year starter Benji Ramirez is a senior and the leader of the group. The other two returners are junior Sean Theurer, who started as a sophomore, and Kevin Mahoney, another junior.
“We have not named a starting goalie, but once we get organized, we should be stout in back,” said Jackling, of his defense.
The midfield will be headed up by another three-year starting senior, Keegan Mahoney (no relation to Kevin). He will be the facilitator of the Burlington attack and also provide some scoring. Sophomore Kasper McIninch is another player who impressed the coaching staff once he got his chance to play, last year
The attack will be headed up by a third player named Mahoney as the top forward. Shane Mahoney, a sophomore, is the younger brother of Keegan and the two seem like a logical combination for the Devils to look towards for goal production.
Burlington had an incredibly hard time scoring goals, last year, and that was far more the reason why it had a poor record, as opposed to the defense. Getting the attack together will be the key to achieving the team’s goals.
“We are in the unusual position where we are setting low expectations for ourselves,” said Jackling. “We need to take care of the small things to set a clear path for improvement.”
The end goal — as always —is to qualify for the tournament. The ML Freedom division should he wide open and one way to qualify is to finish in either first or second place in the division. Watertown and Melrose have battled for the league title the last two years but the Devils, Wilmington, Wakefield and Stoneham are not far behind.
It is also a good year for individual players to make a name for themselves, as only one All-League player each from the Freedom and the Liberty divisions return for this season.
Burlington will open the season on the road with a game at Woburn on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 5:15 p.m.