Cheverus solves Portland behind Gallant's heroics

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Cheverus sophomore Emma Gallant (20) is congratulated by her teammates after scoring one of her two goals in Monday’s 2-0 home win over Portland. The Stags beat the Bulldogs for the first time since 2012.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Speed kills.

And speed combined with a dazzling finishing touch makes life miserable for the opposition.

Cheverus’ girls’ soccer team boasts a player whose speed is unmatched and whose ability to put the ball in the goal makes her a nightmare.

Just ask rival Portland.

The Bulldogs had no answer for Stags sophomore Emma Gallant Monday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, as Gallant scored after an impressive run in the game’s 27th minute, then buried a free kick with pinpoint precision in the 36th.

Cheverus’ defense did the rest, completely stymieing any Bulldogs’ chances and went on a 2-0 victory.

The Stags beat Portland for the first time since 2012, won their fourth game in a row to improve to 4-1 and in the process, dropped the Bulldogs to 1-4 on the season.

“They’ve handled us pretty well the past few years, so the seniors were excited to beat them,” said Cheverus coach Craig Roberts. “We have a more veteran group this year. We’re playing with more urgency.”

Ending the skid

Entering play Monday, Portland had beaten Cheverus in three straight meetings and the game before, the squads played to a scoreless tie (see sidebar, below, for previous Cheverus-Portland results).

Last year, the host Bulldogs prevailed, 3-0.

Both teams entered the 2017 campaign confident they’d contend.

Portland started with a 5-1 victory at Massabesic, then lost at home to Marshwood (2-1) and defending regional champion Gorham (3-0) and at Kennebunk (3-0).

Cheverus started with a last-second 1-0 loss at Kennebunk, then turned things around by beating visiting South Portland (2-1), host Massabesic (5-0) and visiting Falmouth (2-0).

Monday, the Bulldogs looked to keep the good times rolling against their rival, but instead, the Stags beat Portland for the first time since Sept. 26, 2012 (3-0 at Fitzpatrick Stadium).

Cheverus’ first scoring chance came in the fifth minute, when a corner kick was deflected out to senior Abby Cavallaro, who shot wide.

After a Gallant cross was cleared by Portland senior defender Ella Altidor, the visitors earned their lone corner kick, but couldn’t produce a shot.

In the ninth minute, Bulldogs junior Sydney Girsch launched a long shot which Stags freshman goalkeeper Neve Cawley saved.

Gallant nearly got in the scoring column with 22:43 to play in the first half, but her solid low shot was saved by sprawling Portland sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Legere.

Then, with 13:36 on the clock, Gallant struck.

And struck quickly.

Sophomore Caroline Taylor played a long ball ahead which Gallant raced after. In the process, she had to out-run Altidor, nearly her equal in speed, but Gallant, a state champion sprinter, managed to win the race to the ball before going one-on-one with Legere and finishing for a 1-0 lead.

“Often, I see the ball and I just go,” Gallant said. “I saw it three seconds before it was played and I just went. (Ella) had a different angle than I did. I cut in quickly and I was fine.”

“That was really impressive,” Roberts said. “We’ve talked about the types of runs you have to make. Caroline is a reserve player who works hard in practice. She made a perfect pass for Emma to get to. Ella is very fast and last year, she almost single-handedly kept us away from the goal. We were fortunate Emma could break free and calmly tuck it home.”

“It just takes one play and we fell asleep one time,” lamented Portland coach Curtis Chapin. “She exposed us and got through. Hats off to her.”

Cheverus didn’t rest on its laurels and pushed for a second goal.

After Gallant just missed high off a corner kick, the Bulldogs tried to equalize, but Cawley beat sophomore Annika More to a serve into the box, sophomore Isabella More shot just high and Annika More missed just wide.

Then, with 4:05 to play in the half, the Stags earned a free kick opportunity and Gallant took it and made the most of it.

From roughly 30-yards out, Gallant crushed the ball square and sent it sailing high over the outstretched arms of Legere, just under the crossbar to make the score 2-0.

“I’m usually not great at free kicks,” Gallant said. “But I knew as soon as I hit that one that it would be good. I usually have one of those kicks a season. Fingers crossed I’ll have more.”

“That was a really pretty goal,” Roberts said. “She said she stood over it and felt good. To have someone hit a free kick hard and with accuracy is a nice weapon to have.” 

Portland had a chance to answer right back at the other end, but senior Gracie LaGrange’s free kick from a similar distance soared high.

In the first half, Cheverus had a 4-1 advantage in shots and a 2-1 edge in corner kicks.

The Stags couldn’t score again, but they managed to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard as well in the second half.

With 35:02 to play, Cheverus got a good look, but senior Mackenzie Johnston had a shot saved by Legere.

After Cawley beat junior Grace Stacey to freshman Samira Doiron’s serve into the box, Gallant tried to complete her hat trick, but missed high and wide, then had a blast tipped away at the last second by Legere, setting up a corner kick.

On the ensuing corner kick, a header from sophomore Michaela Jordan was punched away by Legere, setting up another corner, which didn’t result in a shot.

After a Johnston steal, junior Sydney Michelson had a look but just missed.

Junior Zoe Mazur then shot high.

LaGrange got some looks later in the half, but couldn’t get them on target and after Annika More missed just wide late in the contest, the Stags closed out their 2-0 victory.

“I feel so good,” Gallant said. “I was so excited for this game because last year was a tough loss. Winning this one is really exciting for us. We really picked it up this game and we didn’t have bad minutes. We kept the ball in their half most of the time.”

“I know Portland had a lot of players back from last year and last year, we got beaten badly on balls up the middle,” Roberts said. “We’ve worked on knowing when to drop and drop compactly, so they’d have to beat us wide. We did that well on a wet field.”

Cheverus had a 10-2 shots advantage, a 6-1 advantage in corner kicks and got two saves from Cawley.

Portland got eight saves from Legere, who is replacing graduated standout Taylor Crosby.

“Lainey is a great player and she’s working hard every day,” Chapin said. “She’s bailed us out a lot.”

“(Lainey) was pretty sure-handed,” Roberts said. “She tipped some shots wide or made saves.” 

Ultimately, the Bulldogs’ inability to score for the third straight game sealed their doom.

“It’s the same old problem right now, a lot of possession, but we get too narrow and we can’t get a shot in the final third,” Chapin said. “It’s been an issue for a few games now. I feel like we had the majority of possession and had a good chance to win, but we couldn’t take advantage.”

High aspirations

Portland hopes to bounce back Tuesday when Windham pays a visit. Saturday, the Bulldogs welcome South Portland.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Chapin said. “We have a mix of older and younger players. The expectation is to grow as a team. I’m excited about where we’re going. We have to go out and take care of business going forward and I believe we’ll do that.”

Cheverus is back in action Wednesday versus Westbrook in a game that has been moved to Deering’s turf field at 7 p.m.. The Stags play at Thornton Academy Friday.

“I think this team is different than last year, but I think that despite losing some key seniors, we’ve made up for it,” Gallant said. “We have a couple really good new freshmen. There’s a lot of sophomore on the team. We’ve come together. We have to stay compact and communicate so we can play together a lot better. We need to be more united in the midfield. The offense needs to be connected to the defense and midfield and everyone needs to mesh.”

“Now, we’ve strung some wins together and hopefully we keep riding this momentum,” Roberts said. “Five years ago, when I started, if you told me there would be this much parity in the SMAA, I would have said you’re crazy. You have to show up each day. We try to get better each game. We have girls getting healthy. We have two more games this week, so we can’t look too far ahead. We’ll focus on Westbrook.” 

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Previous Cheverus-Portland results

2016
@ Portland 3 Cheverus 0

2015
Portland 4 @ Cheverus 1 

2014
@ Portland 3 Cheverus 1 

2013
@ Cheverus 0 Portland 0 (tie) 

2012
Cheverus 3 @ Portland 0

2011
@ Cheverus 5 Portland 0

2010
Cheverus 6 @ Portland 0

2009
Portland 1 @ Cheverus 0

2008
Cheverus 1 @ Portland 0

2007
@ Cheverus 1 Portland 0

2006
@ Portland 2 Cheverus 1
Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 1 @ Portland 0

2005
@ Cheverus 2 Portland 1

2004
@ Cheverus 2 Portland 0

2003
Portland 3 Cheverus 1

2002
Portland 6 Cheverus 0

Portland senior Gracie LaGrange winds up to strike the ball.

Cheverus senior Mackenzie Johnston is robbed by Portland sophomore goalie Lainey Legere as senior Ella Altidor looks on.

Cheverus freshman Lily Paszyc gets a step on Portland sophomore C.C. Ritter.

Cheverus senior Mackenzie Johnston heads the ball away from Portland sophomore C.C. Ritter.

Cheverus sophomore Emma Gallant launches a free kick over the Portland defense and eventually past Bulldogs sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Legere.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.