PORTLAND—A year ago, Cheverus’ boys’ soccer team flew under the radar, settled for four regular season ties, then went into the playoffs facing no expectations whatsoever.
And a couple weeks later, the Stags raised an improbable Gold Ball to the heavens.
This autumn, Cheverus again settled for four ties in the regular season and isn’t the first team that comes to mind when top contenders are discussed, but now that the leaves have turned and the air has gotten colder, the Stags appear to be rounding into the form which will make them very difficult in the upcoming postseason.
Thursday afternoon, in its regular season finale, Cheverus welcomed crosstown rival Deering, a squad the Stags hadn’t beaten in four years, and rode an early goal from senior Luke Trickey, a solid defensive performance and another strong effort from senior goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson to a pivotal 1-0 victory.
Cheverus improved to 7-3-4, guaranteed itself at least one home playoff game and dropped the Rams to 6-5-2 in the process.
“We held on,” said Stags second-year coach Colin Minte. “I thought we should have put a few more in in the first half. We had a ton of opportunities, but they’re a good team. They’ve played everybody competitively. I thought they had a little more of the play in the second half. I think it was relatively even on the whole.”
Despite high hopes entering the season, neither team has won as much as it expected.
Deering opened with a 4-0 home loss to Scarborough and a 1-0 home setback to South Portland, then got on track with victories at Biddeford (3-1) and Sanford (2-1) and at home over Bonny Eagle (5-3). After a 2-0 loss at Gorham and a scoreless tie at Westbrook, the Rams handled visiting Windham (4-1) and Noble (3-0). After another scoreless tie, at Marshwood, Deering beat visiting Massabesic, 3-0, then dropped a tough one at Thornton Academy Tuesday, 3-2.
The Stags settled for ties in their first two games, 0-0 at Portland and 1-1 at home against Marshwood. After a 5-0 home win over Massabesic, a 1-0 victory at Westbrook and 5-0 wins at Noble and at home over Windham, Cheverus was bested by visiting Thornton Academy, 2-1. After a 5-1 victory at Biddeford, the Stags lost at Scarborough in a regional final rematch, 4-2, settled for a 2-2 home tie against Bonny Eagle, then lost at Gorham, 3-1, settled for a scoreless home tie versus South Portland and won at Sanford, 6-0.
Entering the game, since 2004, Deering held a 9-4-1 edge against Cheverus, including victories in each of the past four meetings. Last fall, in the regular season opener, the Rams eked out a 2-1 win at Cheverus. Deering went on to reach the Western A semifinals, but the Stags of course had the last laugh, winning it all.
Thursday, on a very pleasant fall afternoon, after a pregame ceremony to honor 15 seniors who restored the program to glory, Cheverus got the win it sought in its finale, beating the Rams for the first time since the 2011 Western A preliminary round, 2-0).
The Stags got the jump in the ninth minute as sophomore Luc Dionne crossed the ball in front where Trickey found himself alone and headed the ball just to the left of Deering junior goalkeeper Orey Dutton and into the goal for a 1-0 lead with 31:23 to play in the first half.
“It was a great cross, right over the top, perfect placement, landed right on my head and I just knocked it in,” Trickey said. “Getting one early was huge. We came out and knew we had to get the first one.”
“We’ve struggled with marking in the box all year,” lamented Rams coach Joel Costigan. “We do a lot of ball watching and guys lose their man.”
After consecutive Stags corners didn’t result in a shot, Deering went on the attack.
Rams senior Matthew Alvarez got a good look after a turnover, but Tomkinson made the save, Tomkinson came out to deny a rush by freshman Iessa Ramadan, junior Hisham Ramadan shot just wide and senior Jonathan Bujambi was denied by Tomkinson.
At the other end, Cheverus senior Ethan Grove shot high, senior Mackenzie Hoglund had a shot saved by Dutton, Hoglund set up senior Brady Levesque for a shot which went just wide, Dutton saved a long bid from Hoglund and finally, Trickey set up Levesque for a look right on the doorstep, but Dutton made his best save of the game to keep the score 1-0 at the break.
The Stags outshot the Rams, 8-6, in the first half and both goalies made four saves.
Cheverus looked to open it up early in the second half ,but a rush by Trickey was broken up, senior Alex Nason shot high and a free kick from Hoglund forced Dutton to make a sprawling save.
With 27:36 to play, Deering almost tied things up, but senior Bailey Small’s serve to senior Paolo DeMarco was headed just wide.
Two minutes later, Bujambi shot high.
With 22:34 remaining, Iessa Ramadan had a shot save and four minutes later, his rush was broken up.
With 17:20 to go, a long free kick from senior Fernanda Lopez-Pereira was headed out by Stags senior defensive standout Andrei Vile, but the ball came to Bujambi, who bent a shot that looked dangerous, only to sail over the crossbar.
In the 68th minute, Deering junior Jonatha Mbongo shot just wide.
With 9:40 remaining, the Rams earned a corner kick which led to a decisive sequence.
The ball was played short and Lopez-Pereira took a shot, but it was blocked. It then wound its way into the corner, where DeMarco retrieved it and crossed it in front to Bujambi, who turned and had an open look, but his blast hit the post.
“What happened is I think Andrei maybe slipped and the guy turned and ripped it off the post,” Tomkinson said. “We got very lucky. It was too quick to really worry about, to be honest.”
“We got some breaks in the second half,” Minte said. “When we play a top tier team like Deering, we can’t let them hang around. They’ll get their chances. Thankfully, their best chance went off the post and didn’t go in.”
As frustrated as the Rams were by their near miss, seconds later, they were incensed when an apparent Cheverus hand ball in the box wasn’t called.
Had it been, Deering would have earned a penalty kick with a chance to tie.
“I feel we lost on calls at the end, but I can’t control that,” said Costigan.
The Rams still had chances to tie, but Lopez-Pereira shot way wide, then had another bid saved by Tomkinson.
As time expired, Levesque broke free with a chance to give the Stags a second goal, but Dutton made one more impressive save and the game went into the books a 1-0 Cheverus victory.
“It would have been nice to get more goals because it’s nervewracking holding a lead,” Trickey said. “We kept it together defensively and I think we played really well.”
Shots finished even, 15-15, with the Stags holding an 8-6 advantage in shots on frame and a 3-2 edge in corner kicks.
Tomkinson continued his strong play with six saves.
“It’s nice having Jake,” Trickey said. “I wouldn’t want anybody else.”
“Having Jake and Andrei back there gives us a lot of confidence,” Minte said. “Jake’s come up big for us throughout the season. He’s always in the right position. He gives me confidence that if it’s a save-able ball, he’ll save it. He’s handled the crosses well. They played balls over the top today and he got to balls tentative goalies won’t get to.”
Tomkinson chose to defer credit to his teammates.
“Experience definitely helps, especially with our defense,” Tomkinson said. “Andrei and the other guys make a big difference. Even though I see tough shots, my defense is cutting off angles and it helps. Half the time when I come out, it’s to distract and I don’t even have to make a save.”
Deering got seven saves from Dutton, but was left frustrated.
“We need to do better finishing,” Costigan said. “We hit the post once, missed a couple passes that could have been goals. That was the biggest difference, regardless of the calls.
“We didn’t follow our game plan. It’s been a constant struggle all year with discipline on the field, executing the game plan. We want to do it ourselves when we get the ball, instead of using teammates. We constantly talk about doing things together. It’s been a struggle. The talent is there.”
Deering (now 10th in the Class A South Heal Points standings) has one game left, another key showdown at rival Portland Tuesday. The Rams would love to move into the top eight to get at least one playoff game on their home turf.
“We have a lot of work to do before playoffs,” Costigan said.
Cheverus (sixth in Class A South) is hoping for more late-October, early-November magic, but still has a lot of work to do.
“We’re capable of doing what we did last.year,” Trickey said. “We just have to play the way we know we can. We want to play our best soccer going into the playoffs, which it seems like we are.”
“I know we can compete with every team,” Tomkinson said. “We got unlucky in some of our games. The league’s so good this year. We want it. Last year gives us so much confidence. If we play the way we’ve played the last three games, goals will come. I’m excited.”
“I don’t think we’ve played to the level where I think we can, or where we were last year in the playoffs, but I think a game like this gives us confidence going into the tournament,” Minte added. “I think we can play with anybody as long as we play good, quality defense. We have good, dangerous players going forward. We’ll get our chances. It’s about putting it in the back of the net. In the playoffs, the name of the game is capitalizing on your opportunities. I think we’ll have identical records and results with South Portland. (Seeds) six or seven will be a tough prelim no matter what, then we’ll probably have to play TA or Gorham. They’re tough matchups for anyone. We can’t control it. We’ll hopefully go out and compete for 80 minutes.”
Deering senior Fernando Lopez-Pereira tries to get around Cheverus senior Ethan Grove.
Cheverus junior Nick Hase fights Deering freshman Iessa Ramadan for the ball.
Deering junior goalkeeper Orey Dutton sprawls to make a save.
Cheverus senior defensive standout Andrei Vile heads the ball away from Deering senior Jonathan Bujambi.
Deering senior Christian Castaneda fights off Cheverus senior Luke Trickey.
Cheverus senior Mackenzie Hoglund boots the ball while Deering junior Ezra Chapola gives chase.
Cheverus senior Luke Trickey heads the ball past Deering junior goalkeeper Orey Dutton for the lone goal of the Stags’ 1-0 win Thursday.
Chris Lambert photos.
Cheverus senior Alex Nason launches a corner kick.
@ Deering 1 Cheverus 0
Deering 1 @ Cheverus 0
Western A preliminary round
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 1 (4-3 PKs)
Cheverus 3 @ Deering 0
Western A preliminary round
@ Cheverus 2 Deering 0
Deering 2 @ Cheverus 1
@ Deering 1 Cheverus 0
@ Deering 1 Cheverus 1 (tie)
Deering 4 @ Cheverus 1
Western A quarterfinals
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 1 (OT)
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 0
@ Cheverus 2 Deering 1
Cheverus 2 @ Deering 1