PORTLAND—Two rivals looking to turn their seasons around did battle in a pivotal boys’ soccer game Tuesday afternoon at Boulos Stadium.
Host Cheverus was riding a four-game losing streak, while Portland was seeking just its second win after having to forfeit a victory last week.
The Stags would make more of their chances than the Bulldogs in the first half. While Portland senior Tim Rovnak couldn’t finish on a couple opportunities in close, Cheverus managed to grab a 1-0 lead when senior Jimmy Campbell scored in the sixth minute.
That would prove to be the only goal the Stags would need, but they got an insurance tally with 32:17 to play when junior Jamie Biegel lofted a shot into the goal.
Cheverus completely put the clamps on the Portland offense from there and went on to a 2-0 victory, evening its record at 4-4, while dropping the Bulldogs to 1-5-1.
“When you lose four in a row, it’s important to get back on the right track and we did that today” said Stags assistant coach Matt Williams. “I think it’s big to get to .500 again and get the confidence of a win.”
Portland, a state finalist in 2010 and a quarterfinalist in 2011, has a very new look this fall. The Bulldogs opened with a 3-0 home loss to Noble, then won at Deering, 2-0. After falling, 6-1, to visiting Scarborough and 5-1 at Gorham, Portland tied host Biddeford (2-2) and won at Westbrook (2-1). Last week, however, it was announced that the Bulldogs had forfeited their win over Deering due to inadvertently using a player who was overage.
Cheverus made it to the semifinals a year ago and opened 2012 with home victories over Sanford (3-1) and Biddeford (7-0) and improved to 3-0 with a 3-0 triumph at Bonny Eagle. The Stags then lost to visiting Noble, 1-0, fell at powerhouse Scarborough, 3-1, then were knocked off by visiting state champion Windham (2-0) and host Kennebunk (4-3).
The rivals have met in the past three postseasons (and four of the past five). Last year, Cheverus avenged a painful regular season overtime loss with a 3-1 win over Portland in the quarterfinals.
Tuesday, the Stags made it two in a row over the Bulldogs, thanks in large part to a quick start.
The visitors had the first good scoring chance when Rovnak fed senior Ibrahim Dahir. Dahir was open, but fell down in the box.
Cheverus went up when senior Andrew Rose sent a long pass over the Portland defense, where Campbell ran the ball down, went in one-on-one with Bulldogs senior goalkeeper Chip Weber and fired a shot into the net for a 1-0 lead with just 5 minutes, 15 seconds gone.
“I thought a fast start was crucial,” said Campbell. “Coach (Bill LeBlanc) has been telling us all season that we haven’t been starting well. I just wanted to show the team that we really needed to and I think that helped a lot. I saw the ball going over. I had to get to it and ran through it. It was more a hustle play than anything else.”
“Getting a goal early allows you to sit back defensively a little bit and do the right things,” added Williams.
The Stags had a couple chances to go up 2-0, but junior Isaac Yeboah’s shot was denied by Weber and junior Nate Smith shot wide.
In the 27th minute, Rovnak had a pair of chances to tie the score, but he first shot just wide with his right foot, then, in alone, shot wide with his left foot past Cheverus junior goalkeeper Charlie Mull.
“You want Tim to put those away,” Portland coach Rocky Frenzilli said. “He works so hard for them. You feel bad when they don’t go in.”
With just over a minute to go before halftime, Mull came out to barely save a sprawling shot of Rovnak’s, which set up a corner kick for the Bulldogs, then another.
With time winding down in the half, Mull had to punch away the second corner kick to keep the game 1-0.
Early in the second half, Stags freshman MacKenzie Hoglund appeared to double the lead, but his goal was waved off due to an offsides call.
With 32:17 to play, however, Cheverus made it 2-0 and this one stuck as Biegel floated a long shot over Weber, who had come out to play the ball and had tried to race back into the cage.
The Stags then turned to their defense to slam the door.
Portland’s only chance came in the 73rd minute when junior Ek Bakunda headed a shot over the crossbar on a corner kick.
Cheverus then ran out the clock to get back in win column, 2-0.
“I think the Kennebunk game really gave us a wakeup call,” said Williams. “Our goal today was to try to find our offensive rhythm again. Two goals helped that. We wanted to just get better so at the end of the game, we’re at our best. At halftime, we told them to pick it up defensively. Charlie Mull helped us out in the first half and made a couple good saves. Once we got the second goal, you want to continue to do the right thing.”
Keeping Rovnak off the board was something the Stags couldn’t do in 2011. Tuesday, they did so.
“With Rovnak, it was a lot about defensive positioning,” Campbell said. “I think we did a lot better on him in the second half.”
“Last year, I think we learned our lesson when he beat us in overtime,” Williams said. “He’s a good player. He works really hard. We just wanted to keep him in front of us. We switched up our formation a little bit to do that. We definitely neutralized him a little bit.”
Frenzilli had hoped Tuesday would provide a victorious springboard to the rest of the regular season, but it wasn’t to be.
“We just had too many chances go awry,” Frenzilli said. “I thought we had chances in the first half, but unfortunately didn’t put any away. Their first one, they just happened to flip one over the defense. The second goal was just a bang-bang play in front. Cheverus is a skilled team. They deserve credit for finishing their chances. They knew what to do. The second half, they literally took us out of our game. We didn’t get any chances at all. they just denied us. It was tough. They deserved to win.”
The Bulldogs (15th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings, where the top 12 make the playoffs) are back in action Thursday when Massabesic pays a visit.
Frenzilli believes his team is still capable of making a run.
“I know we can play with every team we play,” Frenzilli said. “We just need to show up. Maybe the ball has to roll for us the right way a couple times. You make your own chances and you have to take advantage of those.”
Cheverus (12th in the standings) is also back in action Thursday at Westbrook.
Look for the Stags to keep getting better and to be very dangerous by mid-October.
“This will get us some momentum, hopefully” Campbell said. “Today was a start, but I think we have a lot more potential than we’ve shown. It all starts in practice for us. If we improve on that, I think we can be a really strong team.”
“I think moving forward, with our schedule, this is important,” Williams said. “We still have Deering and Gorham down the road. South Portland’s very good. One game at a time.”
Portland senior Tim Rovnak goes up for a header along with Cheverus junior Zach Poulin (front) and senior Spencer Noel.
Portland junior Liban Hassan plays the ball while being defended by Cheverus senior Spencer Noel (5) and sophomore Jake Dixon.
Cheverus senior Jimmy Campbell plays the ball forward.
Portland senior standout Tim Rovnak and Cheverus junior Colin Grove battle for possession.
Cheverus junior goalie Charlie Mull makes a save while Portland junior Stephen Barry pressures and Stags sophomore Derek Hammond watches.
Portland junior Ek Bakunda alters the shot of Cheverus senior Jimmy Campbell. Campbell scored the game’s first goal in the sixth minute.
Cheverus junior Jamie Biegel fires a shot which results in the game’s second goal. Portland sophomore Connor Bruce looks on.
Cheverus senior Jake Halpin plays the ball ahead while being chased by Portland sophomore Connor Bruce.
Portland senior goalie Chip Weber outleaps Cheverus freshman MacKenzie Hoglund on this play while Bulldogs freshman Josh Irving looks on. The Stags earned a 2-0 victory.
More photos below.
Portland 1 @ Cheverus 0
@ Portland 6 Cheverus 0 (Western A quarterfinals)
Portland 3 @ Cheverus 1
@ Portland 1 Cheverus 1
@ Cheverus 1 Portland 0 (Western Class A preliminary round)
Portland 2 @ Cheverus 1
@ Portland 1 Cheverus 1
@ Cheverus 4 Portland 1