NEWBURYPORT — As a 16-year-old foreign exchange student from Sweden, John Milton has had a lot to get used to.
But it is in his role as forward on the Newburyport boys soccer team that he has grabbed people’s attention, both helping the Clippers to make the state tournament, then sinking the second of the Clippers’ five goals against a rough Tech Boston team in the tournament’s first round Sunday morning.
“He was working his butt off when he scored that goal,” Clippers coach Shawn Bleau says of Milton’s first tournament goal in the 5-3 victory. “He worked hard and took on some big kids at the same time.”
The fact that Milton has two goals and one assist on his varsity season doesn’t tell the whole story. Arriving in Port from Sollentuna in late August with some back issues, Milton was slotted into the junior varsity squad. Then the sophomore scored two goals against Hamilton-Wenham and was sent up to varsity just after mid-season, scoring his first big-time goal on the road against Triton in the 2-0 victory that clinched a tournament berth for Newburyport in mid-October.
“Everybody was very welcoming,” Milton says of his arrival on the team. “I’m always looking forward to going to soccer practice and every pasta party. And it is such a great team. Everybody is so close to each other, everybody is great friends.”
This is Milton’s fourth time in the United States. He visited in 2003 and 2007, and stayed with his Newburyport host family, the Emersons, last year. Now, he’s here for the entire 2012-2013 school year and has a unique take on his adopted home.
“I love Newburyport,” enthuses Milton. “Everybody is so nice. It’s a little town next to the water. It’s quite similar (to Sollentuna) but it is a much smaller town. We have 60,000 (residents) in my town. In our downtown, we have a big mall and everything. But it’s prettier here.”
Milton says that soccer is his favorite part of Newburyport so far, as it has made it easier for him to make friends. It’s his ability to be a playmaker that has Bleau very happy to have him.
“It’s great to have, all of a sudden, another great player,” says Bleau. “That’s been a fantastic uplift for our team, especially when we kind of found our place, and we were confident with our team. It’s like bringing in another high-salary player into your club team who can score goals. That was a great time to have that happen, and he’s been great at that.”
Like most all the kids from Sollentuna, Milton has been playing soccer since he was 6. The forward says that the biggest difference in playing soccer back home and here in Port is that his teammates are much closer here. They are also more physical on the pitch.
“Sweden probably has better technique than Americans,” Milton says to contrast. “We build the game from the goalie up. These guys (in the U.S.) are built together as a team, and they are probably more shoulder to shoulder. No side tackles, it’s a more rough game.”
“High school soccer and college soccer in the states is generally very physical,” agrees Bleau. “That part is different than Sweden. John plays physical, though. He plays hard, you could see it in the state tournament game the other day. He took a couple of good whacks. But he got right back up and went right back at them. You would think as a kid coming to play from Sweden that he might be intimidated by that, but he wasn’t at all. I was very impressed with that.”
Intimidation has not been a factor in Milton’s U.S. soccer experience so far; in fact, he comes across as a beacon of positivity. He will need that in today’s quarterfinal tilt against 15th-seeded Lynnfield at Amesbury Sports Park.
“I’m pumped,” Milton says of today’s game. “Getting onto the field with a team that is so close to each other, and we’ll have some more people watching too. It’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be so cool.”