GORHAM – Jeff Soules looked into the faces of young teammates Saturday and saw frustration. Maybe a little discouragement as well. “Let’s go, boys,” he said, his voice strong and clear. Let’s take this game back.

The underclassmen listened to their captain and picked up their heads.

To outsiders, the 3-9 record of the University of Southern Maine men’s soccer team would speak to a forgettable season. In fact, the memories of September and October will be carried by coaches and players for the rest of their lives.

They lost one of their own on Sept. 19. Buddy Reid didn’t die from an accident or an illness in what some would understand as an act of God. The freshman from Scarborough took his life, and that can defy comprehension.

“The first day we met (after Buddy’s death) there was a wide array of reactions,” said Soules. Sadness, anger, disbelief. “The whole concept that he was with us the day before just being Buddy made it hard.”

Soules also grew up in Scarborough. He was an assistant coach on Scarborough’s hockey team two years ago and Reid was a player. Soules was one of 14 or 15 seniors on the high school soccer team when Reid was a freshman. “We kind of adopted him.”

Many times sports can become a second family, where teammates become brothers and coaches become father figures. Caring for one another becomes more than just a thought. When the time came, Soules was asked to be a pallbearer. “That was tough,” he said.

When Mike Keller talked to Soules about the responsibilities of being a captain, dealing with the passing of a teammate didn’t come up, certainly. “It’s not in any coaches handbook, either,” said Keller, in his seventh season as USM’s men’s coach.

An even-tempered man, Keller needed his family at home and his extended family in USM’s athletic department to help him through the first week. “If I needed to cry, I’d cry,” said Keller. “I called the team together that first day and canceled practice. There were tears, mostly shock.

“Jeff was the rock for his teammates. He’s pulled the team together. He cares not only about the outcome, but he cares about people.”

One game was postponed. On a Sunday afternoon, the team played for the first time without Reid, whose father, Bill, walked with the team onto Hannaford Field for a moment of silence. Bill Reid accepted condolences from the Keene State coach and responded with something Keller won’t forget: Thank you very much but you’re going to lose today.

USM won in overtime, 2-1. After the winning goal, Soules sprinted off the field to embrace Bill Reid. “It was a huge release,” said Soules. For the first time since Reid’s passing, his teammates could respond in the way they knew best.

USM has lost the next four games by a combined score of 12-1. Soules finally put a goal into the net on a penalty shot in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Little East Conference opponent Plymouth State.

“The team is tired just from the emotions,” said Keller a few days before the game. “They’re joking and laughing a little more but we haven’t got our bounce back.”

They wear Reid’s No. 9 on their sleeve. Soules drapes Reid’s jersey on the team bench, his number facing the field. The season has been dedicated to Reid. As the games continue, opposing coaches and players take a moment or two before games to pay respects.

“It doesn’t distract us,” said Soules. “I like to hear others recognize Buddy and that we’re playing without him.”

As captain and one of just three seniors on an inexperienced team, Soules will call his teammates together and remind them of Reid’s contributions to the team and their need to respond. “We don’t talk about Buddy all the time but he’s always with us. Any random moment it may hit me again (that he has passed.)”

Sixteen minutes into Saturday’s game, USM lost its junior goalkeeper. In a hard collision, a knee smashed Jeremy Turner’s mouth. After the blood was cleared away, Turner discovered he was missing a tooth. For several minutes, more than a dozen fans and USM personnel searched the field turf for Turner’s tooth in hopes they could save it.

They didn’t find the tooth. Turner may have swallowed it.

About two minutes after the game resumed, Plymouth State scored on Turner’s replacement, freshman Ian Dollen-Oliveto. During halftime of a 1-0 game, Keller reminded his players of the opportunites they created. “Let’s have some fun. Take care of it.”

Plymouth State scored two more goals before Soules’ penalty kick. When it was over, he walked off the field. His head was up.

“In a simplistic sense (Reid) gave me a better understanding of mental illness and (how that) affects someone just as cancer or a heart condition does,” said Soules days before. “As hard as this has been on me and the team, it was clearly not as difficult as what Buddy was going through.

“It makes difficult moments in my life far easier to get through.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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Twitter: SteveSolloway