Gorham's second half surge spells revenge against Portland

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Gorham sophomore Matthew Phinney and Portland junior Eric Mukwa battle for a ball in the air during the Rams’ 3-1 victory Saturday morning.

PORTLAND—Portland’s boys’ soccer team came out strong in Saturday morning’s home showdown against Gorham, getting a goal from sophomore Mwanda Kaluta in the second minute.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, there were still over 78 minutes to go and the Rams, emboldened by a desire to avenge last year’s playoff loss, were up to the challenge.

Gorham wasn’t able to break through the remainder of the first half, but just 77 seconds into the second half, junior Ryan Farr tied the score.

With just over 30 minutes remaining, junior Kyle Hamblen put the Rams on top and with 5:48 on the clock, junior standout Andrew Rent ended all doubt and Gorham went on to a 3-1 victory.

The Rams improved to 4-0 on the season and in the process, handed Portland its second straight loss and dropped the Bulldogs to 1-2.

“It was a frustrating day,” said longtime Portland coach Rocco Frenzilli. “I thought we competed better than we did the other night (against Kennebunk), but there was too much pressure and you can only hold it off so long without giving yourself opportunities. We didn’t give ourselves enough opportunities to compete.”

Rivalry born

Entering play Saturday morning, Portland had won two straight meetings, but Gorham still held a 10-6-1 all-time lead in the series, which dates to 2005 (see sidebar, below).

In each of the past two seasons, the Bulldogs and Rams were the final two teams standing in Class A South and they’ve engaged in a pair of memorable regional finals, with Gorham holding on for a 1-0 victory in 2016 and Portland prevailing on penalty kicks last fall.

This season, the Bulldogs and Rams are on the short list of regional favorites.

Gorham started with a 5-0 blanking of visiting Westbrook, then downed host Deering (4-1) and visiting South Portland (2-0).

Portland looked good in its opener, downing host Massabesic, 3-1, but Tuesday, the Bulldogs became the latest victim of resurgent Kennebunk, falling at home to the Rams by a 3-1 score.

Saturday, on a pleasant, late-summer, 64-degree morning, Portland couldn’t have asked for a better start, but the Bulldogs couldn’t build on it and Gorham saved its best for the second half.

Portland went on the attack immediately and earned a free kick when senior Keto Tchiputo was taken down by Rams senior goalkeeeper Trevor Gray.

Junior Tahn Tiparos played the ball in from the side and Kaluta soared and headed it into the goal for a 1-0 Bulldogs’ lead just 68 seconds into the contest.

“Portland is so dangerous and we’ve faced them several times the past few years,” said Rams coach Tim King. “They’re tough to deal with and we just didn’t react. I have a lot of first-year starters getting used to speed of play and the physicality of playing varsity soccer.” 

Gorham nearly answered immediately, but Rent hit the side netting on a rush, a Rent free kick was denied by Portland sophomore goalkeeper Henry Flynn and senior Cooper Lyons floated a shot off the top of the crossbar.

The Bulldogs then looked to double their lead, but junior Alex Millones tipped senior Pedro Fonseca’s pass off the post and Tchiputo missed just high.

In the 20th minute, after Portland failed to clear, Rams junior Gavin Stickney missed just wide.

Neither team had a good opportunity from there and the Bulldogs took their 1-0 lead to the half.

In the first 40 minutes, Portland had a 5-2 edge in shots on frame and while Gorham took five corner kicks, the visitors weren’t able to convert.

The tide would turn quickly in the second half, however.

Just 77 seconds in, after a Bulldogs’ foul, Rent sent a low shot in on a free kick from the side of the box and Farr managed to steer it past Flynn to tie the score, 1-1.

After Millones shot just wide for the hosts, the Rams went on top with 30:07 to play, as a throw from senior Kevin Mollinson came to Hamblen, who buried his shot for a 2-1 advantage.

Portland hoped to equalize, but only generated a couple of shots from senior Sam Nkurunziza, which Gray managed to save.

Then, with 5:48 on the clock, after the Bulldogs failed to clear, Rent pounced and finished and the Rams for all intents and purposes had the victory wrapped up with a two-goal lead.

“We had kids step up and make plays,” King said. “Cooper Lyons in the midfield. Andrew Rent is a great player. Kyle Hamblen, I thought, was excellent in the midfield and our backs were sound and solid. That’s a good recipe for a win”

Portland’s final chance, a free kick from senior Tyler Lemay, was saved by Gray and Gorham celebrated its 3-1 victory.

“It took us awhile, but we had a good second half,” King said. “We have a lot of respect for Portland. We know how good they are. They scare the heck out of me. We didn’t talk about last year. We came over here to see where we shape up right now.”

Each team had 13 shots (six apiece on frame), but the Rams made the most of their opportunities.

Gorham had a 10-3 edge in corner kicks.

Gray stopped five shots.

Portland got three saves from Flynn, but suffered its second successive setback.

“(Gorham’s) very skilled and they know where each other will be,” Frenzilli said. “Rent’s a special player. He gets his chances. We unfortunately committed some fouls in the wrong places. They took advantage of their opportunities. We didn’t generate much on frame.”

Til’ we meet again

Gorham and Portland aren’t scheduled to play again, but it’s quite likely they’ll square off in the playoffs once more.

That’s a long way in the future, however, and each team has more immediate tests looming.

The Rams’ road gets no easier as they go to Scarborough Tuesday and host Thornton Academy Thursday.

“I’m really happy where we are,” King said. “We keep taking steps forward. Now we have Scarborough Tuesday. It doesn’t get any easier, but it’s helping us grow up.”

The Bulldogs hope to get back on track Tuesday, but they’ll have their hands full when Falmouth pays a visit. Portland travels to Cheverus Thursday.

“This year, the league is very good,” Frenzilli said. “I still think we’re decent and can find a way. It has to come from within. We’re pulling strings to try and make it happen. If it happens, hopefully the sooner the better. We’ve got talented players. They have to find a way to get it done. We can move some pieces around, but they have to trust each other and our system and we’ll see how it goes.”

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

Previous Portland-Gorham results

Portland 2 @ Gorham 1
Class A South Final
Portland 1 @ Gorham 1 (Bulldogs win, 4-2, on PKs)

@ Gorham 3 Portland 0
Class A South Final
@ Gorham 1 Portland 0

Gorham 2 @ Portland 0

@ Gorham 2 Portland 1

@ Portland 1 Gorham 1 (tie)

@ Gorham 5 Portland 1

@ Portland 3 Gorham 1

Portland 1 @ Gorham 0
Western A Final
@ Portland 2 Gorham 1

Gorham 2 @ Portland 0

@ Gorham 3 Portland 1

Gorham 5 @ Portland 0

@ Gorham 4 Portland 1

@ Portland 2 Gorham 1
Western A quarterfinals
@ Gorham 3 Portland 0

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