When Jared Scarpaci arrived at Emerson as the men’s soccer coach in 2003, he had a roster of 19 enthusiastic, if inexperienced players. One of them, Scarpaci recalled, was wearing a nicotine patch.
The team practiced on weekdays at East Boston Memorial Park from 9 to 11 p.m., where, upon arriving, the team would sometimes find the lights turned off. They got to and from the field in three packed vans.
On days when East Boston High School had priority on the turf practice field, the team, following Scarpaci’s lead, would gather on the Charles River Esplanade—sans Emerson apparel—and run their practice in the guise of a pickup team.
Now, after 11 seasons—nine in the GNAC and two in the NEWMAC—Scarpaci, a father of two young boys and a high school history teacher, is Emerson’s longest-serving head coach and has left a lasting legacy in charge of one of the school’s most successful programs.
Scarpaci, who coached soccer at Endicott and Salem State College before Emerson, remembers his nascent days with the Lions fondly.
“Even in the early years with all the trouble we had finding places to play, we always had a great group of guys who just wanted to play,” said Scarpaci.
Despite not having a permanent location to practice or play in Scarpaci’s first year, the Lions finished 11-7-1, followed by a 14-6 year after that.
One of those 14 wins, in 2004, came against Emmanuel College. The team had forgotten to bring a bag of soccer goals to warm up with before the game. A solution came in the form of two soccer balls provided by the other team and a basketball that one player found in some nearby bushes. Using those three balls to warm up, the Lions played what Scarpaci called one of the best games he’d seen Emerson play, and they beat Emmanuel, 3-0.
In 2005, Scarpaci and the Lions found a permanent home in Rotch Playground, a state-of-the-art soccer field in the South End that the city owns and Emerson leases. Scarpaci said this facility, which is also used by other sports at Emerson, raised morale and raised players’ expectations for themselves.
But without a steady goalie all season, the Lions suffered their worst season under Scarpaci, finishing at 3-13-1.
“Believe it or not, that year was probably my favorite at Emerson,” he said. “We had a really solid team besides a goalie, and kids stepped up and played the position without much experience. We stuck together and really worked hard.”
Scarpaci’s most successful season as head coach came in 2009 when the Lions, who had started the season at 1-5, made an improbable run to the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference finals.
After a late season surge, Emerson snuck into the playoffs as the number six seed, traveling to Suffolk University and upsetting them 1-0. They played Lasell College in the semifinals, who had beaten the Lions earlier that year, 4-1.
Emerson scored first and then went up to 2-0 on a volleyed goal by Ken Nicravesh, and ended up winning 2-1. The finals were played in Maine at St. Joseph’s College, and once again, Emerson was a heavy underdog.
“We went all the way to St. Joe’s, who was the number one seed, and as soon as we got there, we saw the entire campus in the stands,” said Scarpaci. “I don’t think there was one person there from Emerson.”
The Lions eventually fell to St. Joseph’s, 2-1.
In 2012, Emerson’s last season in the GNAC, the Lions upset St. Joseph’s in the first round of the playoffs. With this victory, Scarpaci’s team had won against every opponent.
That year, the Lions transitioned to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference and have since failed to match the same type of success they had in their previous conference—a bitter pill Scarpaci said has been hard to swallow.
“We kind of knew that it was a tougher league,” he said, “but it ended up being more than I thought. We saw a level of soccer on a regular basis that we just weren’t used to seeing.”
Scarpaci, who decided to step down after Emerson announced it would convert the head coach title into a full-time position, will leave behind a notable imprint on the college’s athletics program. His 111 wins are the most of any coach in school history. He was named the GNAC coach of the year in 2009, and this year was named College Coach of the Year by the Eastern Massachusetts Soccer Coaches Association.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been a wonderful man with a great deal of integrity,” said Athletic Director Pat Nicol. “He represented Emerson in a manner that made us very proud. He leaves with a great reputation.”
Jesse Senger, a senior whose last season coincided with Scarpaci’s, said Scarpaci would distribute his attention equally among team members.
“He wasn’t always interested in the best player on team, said Senger. “He cared about all of us.”
In his time at Emerson, men’s soccer went from a team without a real home field or much of an identity to one with a full roster competing in one of the best Division III soccer conferences in the country.
“I’m so thankful for all the time I’ve had at Emerson,” said Scarpaci. “I always coached outstanding and classy men, and I’m so happy to have had them in my life.”