PORTLAND—The Deering boys’ soccer team entered the 2014 season full of confidence, perhaps too much confidence after being anointed by some as a favorite, and Friday afternoon in their opener at rival Cheverus, the Rams learned that nothing will be given to them.
But that’s OK, Deering has enough talent to overcome.
On a sizzling hot day at Boulos Stadium, the Stags carried play for stretches of the first half, but couldn’t score and the Rams took a 1-0 halftime lead courtesy a goal from senior Frankie Alvarez.
Cheverus was rewarded for its strong play with a goal just over six minutes into the second half, as senior standout Mackenzie Hoglund finished off a set piece, but with 15:54 remaining, a Rams’ proven standout and a new star combined for the winner.
Senior Stephan Ochan sent a long pass up the field and new senior Hany Ramadan, playing in his first varsity game, ran it down and found the net for what proved to be the winner in Deering’s 2-1 victory.
The Rams won their season opener for the second year in a row, improved to 1-0 and dropped the Stags to 0-1 in the early going.
“The two goals we scored, they guys did exactly what I asked of them and the goal we gave up, they did what they wanted to do,” said Deering coach Joel Costigan. “Anyone who makes predictions doesn’t know the inner workings of our team and the struggles we deal with and what we have to conquer. It’s a long process. There’s a ton of talent, but you can have all the talent in the world and not win a game if you don’t work together.”
Both teams have high hopes in a season which appears as wide open as any in recent memory.
Cheverus welcomes a new coach in Colin Minte, a one-time standout player at North Yarmouth Academy and Skidmore College, who has enjoyed the Midas Touch in his short previous coaching career, leading Windham to the Class A championship in 2011.
“I’m really grateful and excited for the opportunity to be here,” Minte said. “I live and work in Portland, so I have a commute of five minutes at the most, as opposed to 30 minutes to Windham. This is a great athletic community with great support. I think there’s an opportunity to build a strong program.”
Deering, meanwhile, returns an abundance of talent and is viewed by some as championship caliber.
Both squads suffered disappointing 1-0 losses in the Western A quarterfinals a year ago. Cheverus lost at Noble to finish 10-5-1, while Deering was knocked off by Gorham to wind up 11-3-1.
Entering this year’s lone scheduled matchup, the Rams had beaten the Stags in three straight meetings (see sidebar, below), including 1-0 in last year’s opener at Deering.
Friday, on what will likely be the warmest day of the fall sports season (the game was stopped midway through each half for a water break), the Rams did it again, but it didn’t come easily.
Just two minutes in, Cheverus made a statement with a good bid when senior Derek Hammond possessed a failed clear and blasted a shot which Deering senior goalkeeper Anthony Russo had to stop.
Later in the half, junior Alex Nason shot just wide of the goal, Hoglund sent a direct kick over the crossbar, then Hoglund was robbed by Russo on a rush.
With 5:58 left before halftime, the Rams broke the ice.
The goal came off a nice feed into the box from senior Ahmed Adnan. The ball fell on to the foot of Alvarez, who sent a shot past Stags junior goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson and the visitors had a 1-0 lead.
Hoglund had another chance after stealing the ball in the final minute before halftime, but his shot was deflected out and an ensuing corner kick didn’t result in a shot.
Cheverus kept the pressure on to start the second half and it resulted in the equalizer with 33:54 to play.
On a direct kick just outside the box, Hammond sent a short pass to Nason, who fed Hoglund and Hoglund beat Russo to tie the score.
The winning goal came exactly 18 minutes later. While Ochan found himself closely watched (as he was all day) by the Stags’ defense, he sent a long pass up the field. Ramadan raced after it along with a Cheverus defender as Tomkinson held back on his line.
Ramadan, the outdoor state track champion in the 400, not surprisingly won the race to the ball, then beat Tomkinson and just like that, Deering was back on top to stay, 2-1.
“It was very exciting,” said Ramadan, who ran cross country prior to this fall. “The ball came to me and I did what Coach told me. I got the ball and went one-on-one with the goalie. I just had to kick it past him. It felt really good. I like soccer. I never played on a team, so I wanted to play this year.”
“Hany brings speed,” Ochan said. “He’s extremely fast. It’s hard to contain him. Most of my big (passes) go to him.”
Costigan said that speed of Ramadan and junior Paolo DeMarco (another track standout) up top leads to good things.
“Having Hany and Paolo is tremendous,” Costigan said. “I think we have one of the fastest teams in the league. We can rotate them in at different times. It’s something we haven’t had in the past. There’s a lot of attention drawn up top. One of them will get to the ball.”
Of course, just having Ochan (one of the state’s premier players) on the pitch gives the Rams a huge advantage.
“Stephen’s a leader on the field,” Costigan said. “He gives everyone that extra push. He never gives up on anything and the other guys see that. They model their play on his.”
The hosts would have one chance to tie down the stretch, but a serve from junior Brady Levesque to senior Aston Kritzer in the 72nd minute was broken up by Russo and Deering held on to prevail, 2-1.
“We found a way to win,” Ochan said. “We kept our composure. We’re a veteran team. We know what’s at stake and if we play an entire game, we’ll get a positive result.”
The Stags, who are expected to be rebuilding this fall, certainly impressed with their effort.
“Cheverus came out hard,” Ochan said. “They were physical. They moved the ball well and attacked us well. They played as a team. Credit to them.”
“I thought we competed hard for 80 minutes,” Minte said. “I thought we had some good opportunities and we didn’t capitalize. Unfortunately, they got the bounces to go their way. It’s tough to come out and play a team like Deering first game of the season. (Deering’s) everybody’s pick to be one of the best teams in the conference, if not the state. They’re physical and strong, but I thought we came out and played strong. I thought they were slightly better on the day. “
Cheverus is idle until Thursday, when it goes to Marshwood. The Stags will look to play hard in that difficult locale and come out with their first victory.
“We’ll continue to grow as a team,” Minte said. “We’re still figuring out our identity. It’s tough to go down to Marshwood. We’d like to get a win to build some confidence.”
Deering plays at Massabesic Tuesday, then opens up its home schedule with a big showdown versus rival Portland Friday of next week.
There’s no telling how good the Rams can be, but they still have a lot of improving to do to live up to billing.
“If we work hard, we’ll be very good,” Ramadan said.
“We don’t think we’re the number one team,” Ochan said. “We’re trying to get better and better. We’re not there yet. We have a lot of things we need to improve. We have to move the ball quicker and play better.”
“I know that Massabesic is going to be much better than they were last year,” added Costigan. “We need to keep focusing on team chemistry and team bonding.”
@ Deering 1 Cheverus 0
Deering 1 @ Cheverus 0
Western A preliminary round
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 1 (4-3 PKs)
Cheverus 3 @ Deering 0
Western A preliminary round
@ Cheverus 2 Deering 0
Deering 2 @ Cheverus 1
@ Deering 1 Cheverus 0
@ Deering 1 Cheverus 1 (tie)
Deering 4 @ Cheverus 1
Western A quarterfinals
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 1 (OT)
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 0
@ Cheverus 2 Deering 1
Cheverus 2 @ Deering 1