Three Portland-area boys' soccer teams ready for playoffs
Three city boys' soccer teams hold championship dreams as the postseason begins Wednesday.
In Western Class C, the defending regional champion Waynflete Flyers, coming off their finest regular season ever, hope to return to the state final and finish the job. The Flyers, ranked third in the region, host No. 6 Georges Valley in the quarterfinals.
In Western A, sizzling No. 4 Portland will host No. 5 Cheverus in the quarterfinals.
Deering finished 6-7-1, which was good for 12th in the region, but only the top nine teams qualified for the postseason.
Flyers in fine form
A year ago, Waynflete went just 4-7-3 in the regular season, but earned the No. 11 playoff spot. The Flyers then came to life, beating Wiscasset, Telstar, St. Dom's and Mt. Abram to reach the Class C state final, which they lost 2-1 to Washington Academy.
This fall, Waynflete was encumbered with expectations, but has risen to the challenge, winning 12 games (by a composite 45-6 margin), losing only once (1-0 at home to NYA Oct. 14) and tying Lake Region (0-0 back on Sept. 15). A 2-1 home victory over Sacopee last Monday (behind junior Tucker Geoffroy's two goals) gave the Flyers the No. 3 seed for the playoffs.
"We came out ready to play every game," said longtime Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. "It was a little different this year being the hunted. It took us a little while to get playing our best. Hopefully now, we're clicking on all cylinders. We've had a lot of chances, even in the games we haven't scored a lot. I think we're ready to go. We're eager to start the second season. We've looked forward to it for a long time. I like our chances. I like that we're battle tested. We have to finish our opportunities."
The Flyers host No. 6 Georges Valley (9-4-1), a playoff regular, in the quarterfinals, Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. The teams don't play in the regular season. The only previous playoff meeting came way back in 1979 (a 6-1 Georges Valley triumph in the quarterfinals).
"I think Georges Valley is pretty strong," Salway said. "They have a really good keeper and a strong sweeper. They're dangerous."
If Waynflete can advance, it would either host No. 7 North Yarmouth Academy (6-6-1) or go to No. 2 Dirigo (12-0-2) in the semifinal round Friday. The Flyers didn't face the Cougars this fall. They split with the rival Panthers, winning 4-2 in Yarmouth Sept. 22 in the other meeting. The teams have never squared off in the playoffs. Waynflete and Dirigo have never met in the postseason.
"We'd love another crack at NYA," Salway said. "That would mean we're at home. (Top ranked) St. Dom's has been there before. They have a lot of confidence."
Looking ahead, the regional final is Wednesday, Nov. 4, on the field of the highest remaining seed. The state final is Saturday, Nov. 7, at either Scarborough High School or Hampden Academy.
On Sept. 24, Portland lost 2-0 at home to Gorham to drop to 2-3-2 and put its playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. That same day, Cheverus took a 5-1 mark into a home showdown with defending Class A state champion Scarborough.
A month later, after a stunning seven-game win streak (capped by a 2-1 home victory over Bonny Eagle (on junior Fabrice Iraduha's game-winner), the Bulldogs (paced by junior standout Fazal Nabi) look as if they're capable of making a run to the championship, while the Stags have staggered into the postseason (losing their final two games, 1-0 at Deering and 3-2 at home to South Portland).
Wednesday night (7 p.m.), however, a new season begins for both teams, when No. 4 Portland (9-3-2) plays host to No. 5 Cheverus (8-5-1) in the teams' third playoff meeting.
In the regular season game, Oct. 6 at Portland (on Breast Cancer Awareness Night), the Bulldogs cruised to a 6-1 victory. Portland beat the Stags, 4-1 in the 1994 quarterfinals. Two years ago, Cheverus was a 1-0 preliminary round victor.
"I couldn't be more pleased for the players in their run of victories in the last half of the season," said Bulldogs coach Rocky Frenzilli. "After seven games we stood 2-3-2. Knowing we faced a difficult second half of the season, the team committed themselves to compete and play to the best of their abilities and let the results take care of themselves. The results were a 7-0 record, a No. 4 seed and homefield advantage in the quarters. It was an excellent team effort.
"We expect Cheverus to be prepared to play, as it is now one-and-done, a new season. We look for a very hard-fought, competitive contest against a very good No. 5 seed."
"We didn't finish well, but it's wide open," said Stags coach Bill LeBlanc. "We've done well. We did what I expected. I thought we'd be anywhere from 3 to 8 and make the playoffs. We lost a couple I didn't think we would, but it didn't really affect us. Portland's good. Fazal's the best player in the state, hands down. The first game was for a great cause. We played awful and I played my bench. I think they realize that they won't beat us 6-1 all the time. We'll see. No expectations."
The winner will likely go to top-seeded Scarborough (14-0) in the semifinals Saturday. The Bulldogs fell 3-0 at the Red Storm on Sept. 8. Sixteen days later, Stags lost 5-0 at home to Scarborough.
"Scarborough is the defending champion," Frenzilli said. "Their record speaks for itself. As far as we're concerned, they are the team to beat."
"Scarborough's not invincible," LeBlanc said. "There's a good chance Scarborough will be there again, but I think this is a year someone can beat them."
Cheverus has never faced the Red Storm in the playoffs. Portland lost an epic 3-2 (three OT) decision at Scarborough in the 2003 semifinals, in the teams' lone previous postseason meeting.
Looking ahead, the regional final is next Wednesday, on the field of the highest remaining seed. The Class A state final is Saturday, Nov. 7, at either Scarborough High School or Hampden Academy.
Deering won two of its first three games this autumn and closed with a pair of victories (1-0 at Cheverus and 3-2 at Marshwood,), but its 6-7-1 mark wasn't enough to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"Our season went well overall, we improved from last season," said Rams coach Andy LeFebvre. "Unfortunately, it took us too long to jell together and play our best soccer until it was too late in the season to make playoffs. We had some very close and tough games throughout the year and I think we surprised teams down the stretch with how well we played. The team chemistry was great throughout the whole season, and the team was a lot of fun to work with. I look forward to next season already."
Deering returns several promising players and should be in the postseason mix in 2010.
"Next season, I'm hopeful to get back to the playoffs," said LeFebvre. "We have a solid, talented core of returning players. We will need some younger players in the program to step up to the next level and contribute. My expectation is our returning players will set a great tone to the year and really drive the team to reach our goals."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org