Portland senior Zekariya Shaib goes up for a header over Lewiston sophomore Warsame Ali during the teams’ Class A boys’ soccer state final Saturday morning. Ali would play the hero, scoring in overtime, giving the Blue Devils a 1-0 victory.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—Two very similar teams played nearly 90 minutes with absolutely no separation Saturday morning and something had to give.
That something was a rules interpretation and a fateful kick that spelled jubilation for the Lewiston boys’ soccer team and left the Portland Bulldogs in agony at the culmination of the Class A state final at Deering High School’s Memorial Field.
Two dynamic squads were expected to put on an offensive show, but good scoring chances were virtually non-existent, as Portland was able to possess the ball, but couldn’t solve Blue Devils junior defensive standout Henok Citenga, and at the other end, Lewiston couldn’t get the ball past Bulldogs senior goalkeeper Rowan Daligan and his defensive mates.
After 80 scoreless minutes of regulation, the contest went to overtime and there, after a whistle halted play, the Blue Devils were awarded an indirect kick that Portland felt should have been a drop ball and on the ensuing kick, senior Noralddin Othman’s serve found the head of sophomore Warsame Ali, who scored the biggest goal of his young life and for the second time in three years, Lewiston became the Class A state champion by virtue of a 1-0 victory.
The Blue Devils finished the season 14-2-2, won a Gold Ball for the second time in program history and ended the Bulldogs’ stirring run a mere goal shy of their first championship, ending Portland’s season at 13-4-1 in the process.
“It’s a cruel game,” lamented longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli, the game’s longtime ambassador and great gentleman. “They call it beautiful, but there are both ends of that. I couldn’t be prouder of my players. We’ve talked about living in the moment and leaving everything on the field for their teammates. They did that today.”
Portland’s varsity boys’ soccer program has existed for 45 years and in the past 25 seasons, the Bulldogs have reached the playoffs 24 times, but a first championship has proved elusive.
Portland did make the Class A state game in 1994 and 2010 (see sidebar, below, for previous results), but lost both games by a goal, with the more recent setback being especially painful as the decisive goal came on a disputed call when what the Bulldogs expected to be an indirect kick went into the net, but was allowed to stand.
Lewiston, meanwhile, has scaled the pinnacle, beating Scarborough, 1-0, two years ago in its third state game appearance (see sidebar, below, for previous results).
Neither squad was the favorite to get to the state final this autumn, but both saved their best for last.
Lewiston, which lost to Camden Hills in last year’s quarterfinal round, opened with a 3-2 loss at defending state champion Bangor, then won 10 of its final 13 games with the only blemishes a 1-0 loss at Mt. Ararat and ties at Edward Little (1-1) and Camden Hills (2-2).
As the No. 2 seed in Class A North, the Blue Devils advanced by downing No. 7 Brunswick (4-1) in the quarterfinals, third-ranked Edward Little (4-0) in the semifinals and top-seeded Bangor (2-1) in the regional final.
Portland started the year with four straight wins and after losing in overtime at Falmouth, rattled off five more victories. The Bulldogs then endured an 0-2-1 stretch as the offense dried up, but a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over visiting Thornton Academy in the finale gave Portland a 10-3-1 record and the No. 4 seed in the region.
After edging visiting No. 5 Scarborough, their longtime nemesis, 1-0, in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs outlasted No. 8 Thornton Academy, 2-1, in the semifinals and Wednesday, avenged last year’s regional final loss to Gorham with a 2-1 victory at the Rams, thanks to four made penalty kicks to Gorham’s two after 110 minutes couldn’t determine a winner.
The teams met once prior in the playoffs, back in the 1995 Western A quarterfinals, a 3-2 Portland victory.
Saturday, on a chilly (46-degree) but dry morning, in front of a large and vocal crowd, two very skilled teams put on a show of athleticism and ball movement, but offense proved almost impossible to come by.
Until all of a sudden it wasn’t.
The first half had a total of three shots on frame as both defenses were smothering.
In the 13th minute, a free kick from Bulldogs sophomore Alex Millones almost resulted in an “own goal” as it deflected off a Lewiston defender, but Blue Devils junior goalkeeper Dido Lumu came up with it.
After Portland senior Zekariya Shaib headed a corner kick wide, Shaib got another chance on a throw from senior Pedro Fonseca, but again missed wide.
The first official shot came in the 28th minute, as Bulldogs junior Samuel Nkurunziza put the ball on target, but Lumu easily came up with it.
Lewiston’s attack began to awaken late in the half, as it earned five corner kicks in seven minutes, but only one had promise and that was punched away by Daligan.
With 6:03 to go before the break, Portland senior Dana Hinchliffe had a shot saved.
The Bulldogs had a couple forays into the box before halftime broken up and the contest remained scoreless at the break.
The second half was a similar story.
Portland started strong, earning a pair of corner kicks, but on the first, Nkurunziza had a shot deflect just wide of the post with Lumu off his line and on the second, sophomore Tahn Tiparos set up senior Quinn Clarke for a header that Lumu snared.
Lewiston then got a good chance with 35:33 remaining, but a low, left-footed rocket from senior Muktar Ali was denied by a sprawling Daligan.
With 30:43 on the clock, a Fonseca throw landed in the box and came to Mukwa, but he shot high.
Hinchliffe got a good look on the run a little over a minute later, as he took a pass from Millones on the right flank and fired, but Lumu went to the ground to make the stop.
Mukwa had a shot blocked with 15:14 remaining.
The rest of regulation belonged to the Blue Devils, but they too were stymied.
After junior Cooper Millett had a header saved by Daligan, Lewiston had a pair of corner kicks.
With 5:26 left, Fonseca tried to end it, but Lumu broke it up and at the other end, Daligan broke up a feed from sophomore Bilal Hersi to senior Yusuf Mohamed.
The clock ran out from there and after each team manged just four shots on frame, the game would go to overtime tied, 0-0.
In high school playoff soccer, teams play two, 15-minute, “sudden victory” OTs to determine a winner and if no one scores, the game is decided on penalty kicks, but this one would end in just one overtime session.
Portland tried to end it in the first minute, but a long shot by Mukwa was saved.
A rush by Hersi was then broken up by Daligan.
With 7:25 to play, the Bulldogs had a corner kick, but had nothing to show for it.
Fonseca then threw the ball in from the side, but the ball was cleared off the line at the last second by Citenga.
Then, with 5:54 on the clock, with the ball being contested on the Portland side of the field, play was stopped as a Bulldogs player went down with a injury.
Much to Portland’s chagrin, Lewiston was given an indirect kick instead of the Bulldogs getting the ball, or at worst, having a 50-50 drop ball situation.
“(The official) told me white was in possession, but I thought Zek was in possession,” Frenzilli said.
The Blue Devils then brought a quick end to the festivities.
Othman served the ball in from about 45-yards out and it found the head of Warsame Ali, who headed it over Daligan and into the net to give the Blue Devils the state title, 1-0.
“I was right near the penalty box,” Ali said. “I knew the keeper was going to come out right behind me because the keeper, during the game, he was following where the ball goes. After that, I positioned myself where the keeper would come out so I could place it to the corner. So then the ball came, just flicked right over my head. I just hit it, tapped it a little, turned around, it was a goal.”
“I called Warsame’s name,” Othman said. “He’s short, but he jumps higher than the majority of the players on the team. I called his name, I was like ‘Warsame!’ and I kicked it to him. It went and it was perfect. The goalkeeper came out, he chipped it over the top of the keeper and it went in.”
Ali said he got “pretty scared” that a Portland defender might clear it away.
“Once it touched the net, that’s when I started going crazy and celebrating with the team,” Ali said.
In fact, Bulldogs senior Manny Yugu nearly managed to stop the header and extend the game.
“We knew it would come down to one play and they made it,” Yugu said. “The refs ruled indirect and when they kicked it, the guy got his head on it and it went over our goalie. I tried to get it at the end, but I couldn’t get there in time. It was unfortunate. We thought it would be a drop ball since we thought no one had possession.”
Lewiston 1 Portland 0.
“They got their head on it and that was it,” Frenzilli said.
“First of all, you’ve got to congratulate Portland for having just an amazing defense and you got to congratulate Rocco Frenzilli and his staff for putting together a fine team and a fine defensive team,” Lewiston coach Mike McGraw said. “That has to be one of the most stout defenses we’ve been up against.”
Final statistics read 5-5 in shots on frame and 7-7 on corner kicks. Lumu made five saves for the Blue Devils.
Portland got four saves from Daligan in his swan song.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs weren’t able to produce the one goal that would have produced the long-awaited championship trophy.
“We knew (the Blue Devils) were just as athletic and tactical as we were,” said Yugu. “We had a lot of opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on them. Their defense was very good. We wanted to play wide, but they’re just as athletic as we are.
“It’s a tough way to lose, but I couldn’t be more proud because the whole city was here supporting us and we made some noise. We had heart over everything. It wasn’t necessarily the most skilled team, but man, we gave it everything we had every single night and we played for each other. It was a very memorable season.”
“Congrats to Lewiston,” Frenzilli said. “They played hard. It was a great soccer game. I couldn’t be more proud. I just got through telling (the guys) there can be only one (champion) and it’s a tough pill to swallow. We did the things we needed to do and they did the things they needed to do. There weren’t many clear-cut chances. When the ball got in the box, it got cleared away, both teams. They amped up the pressure at the end of the first half. They found feet better than we did.”
“You hate to see it end this way. We’re a family. These relationships they’ve made will last forever. They’ll face more adversity in their life than losing a championship game. We’ll move on from it and grow from it, all of us, even the coach. The guys stuck together and believed in each other and trusted us. There wasn’t any type of in-fighting. I’m so pleased and proud of that. Everyone worked together to make us better.”
Portland will graduate 15 seniors, many of whom were integral contributors.
“The seniors stepped up,” Frenzilli said. “The leadership the captains brought to the team and the way everyone bought into it was great. Many of them were no-minutes, but they hung together. They did a great job.”
The 2018 Bulldogs won’t have a bare cupboard and will be hungry to finish what this year’s team started, but Portland knows nothing will come easily in a league that only gets tougher.
“I have young talent and we’ll look forward to competing again next year,” Frenzilli said.
Sun Journal staff writer Wil Kramlich contributed to this story.
Portland senior Daniel Hanley knocks the ball away from Lewiston senior Muktar Ali.
Portland freshman Gracien Mukwa gets through Lewiston senior Noralddin Othman, left, and senior Alinoor Deqow.
Portland senior goalkeeper Rowan Daligan eyes a loose ball.
Portland junior Samuel Nkurunziza and Lewiston senior Alinoor Deqow battle for the ball.
Portland junior Pedro Fonseca is denied by Lewiston junior goalkeeper Dido Lumu on the doorstep as Blue Devils junior Henok Citenga looks on. Citenga frustrated Fonseca all day.
Portland senior Manny Yugu keeps the ball away from a pair of Lewiston defenders.
Portland senior Quinn Clarke and Lewiston senior Noralddin Othman meet in the air.
Lewiston sophomore Warsame Ali is king of the world as he’s mobbed by his teammates following his winning goal in overtime.
Portland senior captains Quinn Clarke, left, goalkeeper Rowan Daligan and Sam Mermin receive the runner-up plaque.
2010 Class A
Bangor 3 Portland 2
1994 Class A
Mt. Ararat 1 Portland 0
2015 Class A
Lewiston 1 Scarborough 0
2014 Class A
Cheverus 2 Lewiston 1
1991 Class A
Brunswick 2 Lewiston 0