WELLS — Coming from a new varsity soccer coach, it’s a bold statement.

“I honestly believe I’m the best coach in Maine, whether it’s to coach high school or anything. I will match myself with anyone in Maine.”

That’s what Patrick Udeh – boys’ soccer coach at Wells High – said after his team lost its opener to Kennebunk 6-0.

Udeh, 62, has the resume to support his claim.

More importantly, his team believes him. Wells is 4-3-1 with three of its six remaining games against teams it has already beaten.

“I think he’s going to take this team really far now that he’s the head coach,” said senior midfielder Hatim Sharaf. “His discipline level is way greater than it was in past years.”

Wells is part of the Western Maine Conference, which uses a tiered soccer schedule. The Warriors – currently ninth in the Southern B Heal points – play Class B and C schools with only two games against the top-tier squads. Their other losses were by 2-1 scores at York and at North Yarmouth Academy.

Wells has long been known as a football town, with soccer a secondary sport. Last season Wells did make some rare noise, going 6-6-2 in the regular season, winning a preliminary-round playoff game and then taking eventual regional runner-up Greely to the wire in a 3-2 quarterfinal loss.

But senior tri-captain Nick Wuerthner knows Udeh is still facing a big challenge.

“If he turns a team like ours into a playoff, winning team – a state champion team – then that’s probably going to be one of his biggest accomplishments because like two or three years ago we weren’t winning any games,” Wuerthner said.

Patrick Udeh grew up in Jos, Nigeria, and immigrated to the United States in 1976 to attend the University of New Hampshire. After first being rebuffed by the men’s soccer team – the UNH team was dominated by two fraternities and resisted adding foreign students, he says – he ended up being a team captain as a senior when UNH was co-champion in the old Yankee Conference.

In 1986 and 1988 he coached Oyster River High of Durham to the New Hampshire Class I state titles, losing in the final in 1987.

Udeh, his wife Ellie, and their children soon relocated to the Albany, New York, area, where Udeh had taken a job working for Key Bank in its corporate office.

In 1996, in his first season at Waterford-Halfmoon High School, Udeh guided the boys’ soccer team to the New York state Class D title.

Then came a three-year stint (1999-2001) as an assistant men’s coach at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute before the family relocated to Scarborough.

Patrick Udeh stayed involved with soccer in a variety of ways: as an official, an assistant coach at the University of Southern Maine, coaching premier teams and town teams in Scarborough. He watched his three oldest children – Zaria, Tegan and Lexi – become standout players at Scarborough High. Zaria went on to play for the Yale women while Tegan played for the USM men’s team. Daughter Kseniya, a senior at Scarborough High, does not play soccer.

For the past three years Udeh has helped run Wells Recreation’s youth soccer program and was an assistant for the Wells’ boys under Coach Sean Bishop.

When Bishop left, Udeh said it was time for him to return to being a high school varsity coach.

Sharaf said he’s seen a difference, particularly in the quick development of the young players. Sharaf said when preseason started many of the part-time soccer players were “playing around, joking around and not taking the game serious.”

“Day after day, Coach gave us speeches to try to motivate us and gave us different methods on the way to concentrate and be serious.

“As the weeks went on I noticed some of these underclassmen taking it serious and it’s all because of Coach Udeh.”

Udeh does like to pontificate about soccer, Wuerthner said.

“One of the things he likes to do after a game is he’ll say, ‘Let’s be quick here,’ and then it turns into 25 minutes,” Wuerthner said. “We call it an Udeh Minute, which is like an hour.”

“He does talk a lot but it’s about good stuff that we need to learn, too,” said Liam Bell, a sophomore striker.

Bell is Wells’ top scoring threat and one of the very few Wells players who plays club soccer. Bell started playing on Seacoast United Maine’s U-16 team this year.

Bell said he’s seen Wells begin to evolve away from its former kick-and-chase style and become a better passing team with a stingier defense.

“It’s helped us in games to get out of tough situations,” Bell said. “It’s been working. We’ve had more goal scorers than we had last year. It’s good because you need more than one option to score goals.”

After allowing 11 goals in a 1-1-1 start, Wells has given up six goals in its past five games, going 3-2 with 6-1 wins against Fryeburg and Traip.

Udeh, who owns a print shop in Wells, says he’s committed to being the team’s coach for an extended period of time.

“I am a lifelong student of the game,” Udeh said. “To me, it’s a challenge. I think I can make a difference. I’m passionate about the game and I love the game.”


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