Resilient Mela Hopes To Provide Spark For Natick Boys Soccer Team

Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
October, 2018
Article Body: 

Overcoming adversity is a valuable life lesson that can be learned in athletics.
Natick High’s Matthew Mela not only has experienced adversity, but he’s also battled it head-on and demonstrated lots of class in overcoming it.
The 5-foot-11, 130-pound sophomore, who earned a starting role on the Redhawks’ soccer team as a center midfielder last year, suffered a fractured collarbone against Newton North and missed the squad’s final 12 games, including Natick’s 1-0 loss in the tournament to King Philip. The promising freshman was in rehab for 1½ months and had to avoid contact until he fully recovered.
Mela was receiving a pass and took a hard hit, falling to the ground immediately in severe pain. On impact, he knew he was seriously hurt.
“The first two days after the injury, I had to sit with no movement,’’ he recalled. “Everything around my collarbone hurt and my right shoulder ached. When I got hit, I was shocked and stunned because I had never felt pain like that before. My rehab involved physical therapy and rotations to gain back lost muscle.’’
At first, Mela went through the “why-me’’ stage but shed that negative thinking in two days. His focus quickly turned to getting healthy and returning to soccer better than before. “If I continued to be negative, I wouldn’t have felt motivated,’’ he said. “Without a positive outlook, my recovery could have been much slower.’’
Mela was eager to see his teammates and offer support while he was sidelined. “Matthew came to all our games and all our practices,’’ said coach Christian Rodriguez. “His arm was in a sling but that didn’t stop him.’’
And, he recovered quickly and was ready for freshman basketball, playing as a reserve point guard last year.
Now, with Mela at 100 percent and patrolling the midfield, Rodriguez is bullish on Mela’s ability and also delighted he’s got the talented midfielder for three more seasons.
“Matthew made an impact immediately,’’ Rodriguez said. “He’s always in position, passes effectively and has great field vision. His soccer IQ is high, his technical skills are solid and he’s athletic and very coachable. A good teammate, he’s got a great personality.’’
Mela had a goal and three assists before his injury and the goal came in his first start. “We were playing Weymouth and I was a bit nervous,’’ he noted. “But once the game got going, I became more comfortable. We were on the attack, a shot was deflected to me and I fired a shot that beat the goalie from about 12 yards out. That was memorable.’’
What Makes Mela so capable are attributes that include speed and endurance, field awareness and his ability to handle transition. “Being able to shift from offense to defense is a key in midfield play,’’ he emphasized. “My favorite situation is being in the open space, getting the ball, going on the attack and getting teammates involved in scoring chances.’’
Mela has several objectives he’s hoping the team can achieve this season and he’s also got some personal goals he’d like to accomplish. “I’d like to see us win our division in the Bay State Conference and go farther in the playoffs than last year,’’ he said. “We lost 11 seniors but we’ve got the talent to be successful. As for myself, my top priority is to stay healthy and help the team win. I’d also like to get a few more goals and assists.’’
So far, Natick is off to a mixed start, going 2-2 in their first four matches.
Mela could also be in line for all-star honors in the BSC but it’s not a top priority. “If it happens, it would be awesome, but it’s not something I focus on,’’ he said.
Success and a tourney run are what occupy Mela’s thoughts and he’s optimistic, especially because of Natick’s coach and its captains.
“Coach Rodriguez is a terrificmotivator and the players trust him,’’ Mela said. “He’s excellent with strategy and he’s great on and off the field. He showed lots of concern when I was in rehab. Our senior captains are good leaders. Nick Goudsmit (midfielder) and Joey Maichen (defense) are talented and skilled. They’re also very organized and excellent communicators. We’ll finish strong as long as our team chemistry keeps jelling.’’
An honor student, Mela is acutely aware that he’s got plenty of room to improve before he considers playing soccer in college. And, he points to two areas where he wants to get better. “I can improve my communication skills,’’ he noted. “And, I’ve got to improve on defense where I need to get stronger and tougher. I’m often up against bigger players.’’
Mela, who started playing soccer at four in Natick’s youth program, continues to sharpen his skills in club soccer, where he’s competed for five years. A fan of soccer player Gareth Bale of Real Madrid, he also admires his parents (Jeff and Nicole) for their support and encouragement and for “instilling a good work ethic.’’
That work ethic and passion for soccer are ingredients that can only be a plus for Natick going forward. Mela hasn’t forgotten the support and well-wishes he received from his coach, teammates and parents when he was recovering from his injury.
Matthew Mela knows a thing or two about adversity and he’s handled it with class and dignity.