During practice, several members of the Needham boys’ soccer team sported gold shirts with the team’s motto emblazoned with blue lettering on the back: “Rise to the Occasion.”
Coming off an undefeated regular season and a Bay State Conference title, the Rockets knew they would get every team’s best shot. Undeterred from the challenge of an onerous schedule, the second-ranked Rockets have reeled off an 8-0-1 record behind an impressive 23-5 goal differential.
“Our defense, I would say, is the highlight of our team,” said senior captain Noah Goldstein. “I’m confident in our backline stopping anyone. Our back three against any forwards, we’re better one-on-one. With the help from me and the midfielders, we’re lockdown.”
Goldstein, the reigning Bay State Conference MVP, has amassed two goals and six assists, yet takes the most pride in his team’s five clean sheets. Goldstein buttresses the spine of the field, in front of junior center back Campbell Keyes and senior goalkeeper Peter Cohen. Alongside fellow senior captain Dilin Meloni, who has eight goals and seven assists, the Rockets possess a core that wins battles in the middle.
“We’ve been talking about how we wanted to control the game,” said Meloni, an attacking midfielder. “We knew that we could dominate in the way that [Goldstein would] be behind shutting everything down and I’d be up top generating scoring opportunities.”
The recent influx of success is nothing new to the Rockets. Seventh-year coach Jimmy Odierna has notched a 99-25-32 career record after guiding the Rockets to their 800th win in program history on Saturday, a hard-fought, 1-0, nonleague victory over Newton South.
In addition to last year’s unbeaten season cut short in the playoffs, the Rockets earned the MIAA Sportsmanship Award for boys’ soccer.
“We can be classy with our success with wins and how we conduct ourselves on and off the field,” said Odierna. “I take a lot of pride in that. That’s the legacy that Don Brock left.”
After coaching the freshman team, Odierna took over from Brock in 2015. Brock founded the Needham team in 1961, leading the Rockets to great heights.
Brock oversaw 20 Bay State Conference titles, 15 South Sectional titles, 10 EMass titles, and five state championships and earned a record of 696-180-127. The state championship team of 1977 holds the national record of 23 consecutive games without surrendering a goal, finishing the season undefeated.
“I wouldn’t have believed it at all, I just loved coaching high school,” said Brock, now 83. “I would have never believed to be one of the top five soccer coaches in the state in terms of record. I enjoyed my own experience in high school and wanted others to have that same experience.”
Brock’s influence has not only built a consistent winner thanks to a rock solid youth program, but generated a family feel around the program. Dozens of alumni show up to postseason games, watching the Rockets from the hill overlooking Brock Field.
Carl Tarabelli, a member of the 1977 team, then went on to captain the Boston University men’s soccer team in 1982, returned to coach the Rockets’ girls’ team from 2002 to 2021. Tarabelli won 199 games, five Bay State Conference titles, a state championship in 2015, and was elected to the Eastern Massachusetts Girls Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018. Tarabelli credits Brock and Arnie Almquist, a longtime coach in Needham, for giving him the insight and passion to coach.
“Don Brock and Arnie Almquist, as coaches, were probably the most influential people in my life,” said Tarabelli. “They set the bar very high. They pushed us, they kept us in line, and I can honestly say that I don’t know if I would have made it through high school without their guidance.”
With a rich, storied history, the Rockets continue to add to their tradition with another strong team, a testament to the community’s devotion to the sport.
“It’s a soccer community before you even get to high school,” said Odierna. “The reason the high school team is so good is because of the community and youth programs. I always say that my job is not to screw up the talent that we have.”
⋅ The MIAA released its initial power rankings Friday and there were a few surprises with boys’ soccer. Needham was No. 1 in Division 1, followed by No. 2 St. John’s (Shrewsbury), No. 3 Ludlow, No. 4 St. John’s Prep, and No. 5 Shrewsbury. Other prominent programs in the Top 10 included No. 6 Framingham, No. 7 Arlington, and No. 10 Concord-Carlisle.
In Division 2, Oliver Ames was No. 1 and Melrose was No. 2. The Red Hawks are 6-0-1 and one of the most improved teams in the state. One shock was perennial title contender Nauset at No. 35 due to a negative opponent rating.
Pembroke headlines Division 3 with Tri-Valley League contenders Medway (No. 3) and Dedham (No. 4) right behind. Newburyport is 10-0, but was No. 9 with a negative opponent rating.
Pope Francis was the No. 1 seed in Division 4 and Taconic leads Division 5.
⋅ Entering Monday, there were 15 undefeated teams remaining in Eastern Mass. as we approach the midway point of the regular season. They are St. John’s Prep (7-0-1), Needham (8-0-1), Pembroke (8-0), Arlington (7-0-1), Newburyport (10-0), Oliver Ames (6-0-2), Melrose (6-0-1), Medway (7-0-2), Hingham (4-0-3), Barnstable (8-0-1), Dedham (8-0-2), Latin Academy (7-0-1), Somerville (8-0-1), Westport (7-0-1), and Billerica (4-0-4).
However, just two teams in EMass — Pembroke and Newburyport — have won every game. Both teams are coming off strong 2021 campaigns and returned veteran units with size, speed, and skill.
Newburyport starts 11 seniors and that experience has helped the Clippers outscore opponents 32-1.
“I’ve been coaching since 1994 and I’ve never had an all-senior starting team,” said coach Shawn Bleau. “It’s a luxury to have, especially since it’s a group that’s been playing together since they were kids.”
Games to watch
Tuesday, No. 3 St. John’s (Shrewsbury) at BC High, 5:30 p.m. — The Pioneers (8-1-1) lost for the first time last week against Shrewsbury, but will look to rebound in a tough Catholic Conference road match with the Eagles.
Wednesday, Gloucester at No. 8 Masconomet, 4 p.m. — This Northeastern Conference showdown pits South Division leader Gloucester (8-2) against North Division leader Masconomet (9-1).
Thursday, No. 16 Norwell at Rockland, 4 p.m. — The Clippers (6-1-2) are 6-0-1 since a slow start and will look to continue their momentum against a Rockland (7-1) team that leads the South Shore Tobin Division.
Thursday, No. 19 Wayland at No. 14 Newton South — Two strong teams from the Dual County League are seeking a signature win after tough losses last week — Wayland to Concord-Carlisle and Newton South to Needham.
Saturday, No. 1 St. John’s Prep at No. 2 Needham, 10 a.m. — The top two teams in the Globe rankings square off in their annual matchup in what may be the game of the regular season.
Correspondent Matt Doherty contributed to this story.
Cam Kerry can be reached at email@example.com.