PORTLAND—Portland’s girls’ soccer team has been a feel-good story in the early stages of the 2013 season, but while the Bulldogs are happy to contend, their crosstown rival has higher aspirations.
Deering came to Fitzpatrick Stadium Monday evening looking to not only beat Portland again, but continue its evolution into a squad whose balance, skill and tenacity can carry it deep into the postseason.
The Rams controlled play most of the evening, stymied the Bulldogs’ offense by putting senior standout Alexis Elowitch at stopper and took advantage of their scoring opportunities.
Deering went ahead to stay 22 minutes in when freshman sensation Ewa Varney scored on a long shot. Then, just when it appeared Portland would be very much in the game at halftime, the Rams made it 2-0 when junior Meaghan Wells scored on a rebound just 44.5 seconds before the break. Another rebound goal, this one from senior Edie Pallozzi, with 28:58 to play, broke the game open and Deering went on to a 3-0 victory, improving to 4-1, while dropping the Bulldogs to 3-2.
“It was a very nice win tonight,” said Rams coach Kevin Olson. “We played really well together. We knew Portland was much improved. We knew we just had to come out and play with intensity. Our ball movement was really, really good.”
After three straight losing seasons (in which they won a total of just three games), the Bulldogs are rounding back into form. Portland, which last had a winning season and made the playoffs in 2009, started 2013 with a 3-2 home win over Sanford. After falling at home, 5-0, to defending Class A champion Scarborough, the Bulldogs blanked visiting Noble, 2-0, and won at Bonny Eagle, 2-0.
Deering, coming off a nine-win campaign, has lived up to preseason billing this fall. The Rams downed visiting Cheverus, 6-1, in the opener, avenging last year’s playoff loss, then handled host Massabesic, 3-1. After falling at home to Gorham, 2-0, Deering bounced back Saturday with a 3-0 triumph at Noble.
“The Gorham game was a setback, but we a good conversation after, refocused, revisited our goals and definitely bounced back,” Olson said.
After Portland went 4-0-1 against Deering between 2004 and 2008 (please see below), the Rams turned around and took each of the past four meetings, including a come-from-behind 3-1 triumph at year ago at Memorial Field.
The teams were originally supposed to play Sept. 12, but heavy rain pushed it back to Monday, where Deering made it five in a row over the Bulldogs.
After several close calls, including a Varney shot which hit the post, the Rams struck first with exactly 18 minutes to play in the first half.
The ball came to Varney about 30 yards out and after thinking about passing, Varney lofted a shot that Portland senior goalkeeper Zoe Rivera leaped for, but despite getting her fingertips on the ball, Rivera couldn’t stop it and it found its way into the net to put Deering ahead to stay, 1-0.
“I was going to play a through-ball, then I took a shot,” Varney said. “It felt good. I think I’ve done pretty well so far. I feel like this is more advanced than what I’ve played before. I feel comfortable and feel that I can show my skills.”
Varney has certainly turned heads in the early going.
“(Ewa) brings so much energy,” Elowitch said. “She’s done fantastic. She’s really stepped up. She has unbelievable shots and crosses. She’s not scared.”
“I saw something special in Ewa in the preseason,” Olson said. “She’s found her comfort level up top. She has a great shot with power and accuracy.”
Portland pushed to answer, but a shot from junior Madison Bolduc was stopped by Rams senior goalkeeper LeeAnn Downs and moments later, Downs made a great kick save on a point blank bid from freshman Kate Johnson.
It looked as if the score would remain 1-0 going into the half, but Deering got a huge break in the final minute.
On a corner kick, the ball rattled around and came to Wells, who buried it to push the lead to 2-0.
“That goal was huge,” Olson said. “We knew a goal was a must. To execute on our corner was great. It was a nice redirect by (senior) Sofie Duarte and a nice finish by Meaghan.”
In the first half, the Rams ousthot the Bulldogs, 8-5 and had the lone corner kick. Downs made five saves to three for Rivera.
Portland hoped to make things interesting early in the second half, but instead, Deering got breathing room.
After a Varney bid was denied by Rivera, Pallozzi was there for the rebound and tucked the ball into the empty net with 28:58 to go and the Rams’ lead had gone from an unsettling 2-0 to a much safer 3-0.
Down the stretch, the Bulldogs had their chances to get on the board, but junior Ida Erikson was denied by Downs, sophomore Isabel Stehli had a great look stopped by junior backup goalkeeper Emily Mooney and a header by sophomore Chessa Hoekstra off a corner kick sailed high.
Deering ran out the clock and celebrated yet another win over Portland.
“I really did want to beat them, because they’re Portland,” Varney said. “It was stressful. I’m happy.”
“It’s awesome,” Elowitch said. “It’s an intense game every year. You have to play your best game against Portland, no matter the records.”
Deering finished with a 14-7 shots advantage, as Elowitch’s presence on the defensive end of the field helped slow the Bulldogs’ attack.
“Whenever Coach wants me to play (defense), I’ll play there and give 110 percent,” Elowitch said. “Throughout the season, I’ve played back there a couple times. We’re working to stay together. We have great defenders working as one. We need to help each other. We tried not to let them get many opportunities.”
“What Alexis brings is that coaching mindset,” Olson said. “Anytime you can stick someone back there who sees the whole field, you have someone who can communicate with her teammates. She’ll have her chances to put the ball in the net. She’s a team player.”
“I was surprised.” Portland coach Arthur Mosen said. “It wasn’t something we planned for, that’s for sure. I thought it was a compliment to Kate Johnson, who’s been on fire this season. They probably pinpointed her. For a team to change their style based on a freshman striker is surprising and a compliment.”
The Bulldogs quickly shook off the setback.
“It was disappointing to let that goal in right before halftime, but I thought the girls did a nice job hanging in there tonight,” Mosen said. “They possessed the ball very well. They move the ball quickly. I thought that we left a little too big a gap between the midfield and the back four. That comes with experience.
“We’ve come on stronger than last season. As disappointing as it was to lose, it’s most important to keep doing what we’re doing. If anybody told us we’d be 3-2, we’d be happy with that.”
Deering finished with eight corner kicks to Portland’s five. Downs made six saves and Mooney two for the Rams. Rivera stopped five shots for the Bulldogs.
Both teams are in the midst of a busy week.
The Bulldogs are back in action Friday, at Cheverus. Portland is certainly heading in the right direction, but has work to do if it wants to end its three-year playoff drought.
“We have games coming up that we feel confident about,” Mosen said. “I look forward to Cheverus Friday. The girls are pumped up for that. I think we’re an improved team. There’s a different feeling this year than there has been. I think the goal for everybody is to be in a playoff spot. The difference this season is the girls realize it’s achievable. They feel they should be there. I think we’re very close. We’ll keep fighting for it.”
Deering hosts Bonny Eagle Wednesday and plays at South Portland Saturday. Tests versus Scarborough and Thornton Academy also remain. This group has high hopes, but can also elevate its play.
“We’re doing well so far,” Elowitch said. “We still have a lot of room for improvement. We’re hoping to go far, so we need to continue to work on every aspect of the game and bring the energy we had today to every game this season.”
“We have big games to come,” Olson said. “TA will be a big match for us. Scarborough too. To be honest, anybody is tough right now.”
Deering senior Alexis Elowitch and Portland junior Madison Bolduc fight for possession.
Deering sophomore Cora Melcher plays the ball.
Portland sophomore Chessa Hoekstra tries to fend off Deering senior Sofie Duarte as they chase a loose ball.
Portland junior Claire Kirby heads the ball.
Deering junior Meaghan Wells boots the ball away from Portland junior Ida Erikson.
Portland sophomore Isabel Stehli and Deering senior Cole Spike fight over a 50-50 ball.
@ Deering 1 Portland 0
Deering 5 @ Portland 0
Deering 2 @ Portland 1
Portland 2 @ Deering 1
@ Portland 1 Deering 0
Portland 1 @ Deering 0
@ Portland 1 Deering 1 (tie)
Portland 1 @ Deering 0
Western Class A semifinals
Deering 1 @ Portland 0
Deering junior Meaghan Wells is congratulated by teammates Courtney Brett (12) and Sofie Duarte (19) after scoring a pivotal goal right before halftime of Monday’s showdown at Portland. The Rams went on to a 3-0 victory.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.