By Joyce Erekson
Soccer fans are in for a treat next month.
Manning Field has been home to numerous north sectional semifinal and final games as well as some Eastern Mass championship games (two of which were Div. 2 state finals) in recent years, but the Manning team is kicking it up a notch this year.
MIAA North tournament director and St. Mary’s athletic director Jeff Newhall said the Lynn facility will be home to four, possibly five, state championship games on Nov. 21st. Normally those games are held in Worcester, either at Worcester State University or Foley Stadium, due to their central location, but this year construction work at the university impacted the parking situation and restroom access. Newhall said he also thinks Foley Stadium may have been already booked.
“I think the idea was they wanted to play all eight (championship) games on the same day,” Newhall said.
Newhall said he and Facilities Manager John Kasian started talking about the November soccer tournament schedule as early as May and began blocking out dates. They offered to hold Manning for the 21st in case it was needed and last Friday, the MIAA took them up on the offer.
Newhall said he doesn’t know which games Lynn will get, but two will definitely be Division 2, which considers the Eastern Mass (North vs. South) game its state final because the central and western part of the state don’t have a Division 2.
“I think we’ve become a destination for soccer in the north,” Newhall said, adding that the staff he and Kasian have assembled to run the state tournament games has made for smooth sailing.
“Between the facility and the way the operation is run, it’s second to none,” Newhall said.
The staff Newhall is referring to also includes Gary Molea, Ed McNeil, Jim Beliveau, Dave Raymond, Jason Newhall, Jim Foley, Dave Giarusso, Joe Farrell and others.
Newhall said Manning is an appealing site to host these games because it has, among other things, seating for 4,000, parking, restrooms (as opposed to portable toilets), a press box, a sound system, scoreboard and concession stand.
Kasian said in addition to the state championship games, Manning will also continue to be home to the north finals and many of the north semifinals.
“Clearly we have a facility that can handle it (all the games) and a good team of people who know how to run an event like this,” Kasian said.
Kasian said over the years the state tournament games have become extremely well attended and the influx of sometimes thousands of people into the city during the course of the tournament is good for the city economically. He said restaurants (sit down and fast food) as well as gas stations benefit from the business.
Kasian described soccer tournament season at Manning Field as being little like March Madness in basketball.
“It has that feel to it with the build-up and the sheer number of games that take place. It’s quite neat. It’s a fun tournament. It’s fun to be part of running and administrating it,” Kasian said. “This five-week stretch coming into Thanksgiving (which also includes all the football games) is pretty wild at Manning Field.