PORTLAND—The Deering Rams are for real.
One of the most highly touted boys’ soccer teams in the region hosted a squad Friday night at Memorial Field which had made its life miserable in recent seasons, the rival Portland Bulldogs, and put on a show that won’t soon be forgotten.
A show which featured senior standout Stephan Ochan in the leading role.
Deering got the only goal it would need in the 15th minute when junior Jonathan Bujambi finished a feed from sophomore Josue Samuel Madrid Brenis, but the fun was only beginning.
With 2:35 to go before halftime, Ochan first made his presence felt when he launched a 40-yard free kick past Portland junior goalkeeper Bobby Brittingham and into the goal.
And Ochan wasn’t done.
His second half tally was even more mind-blowing, as with 29:20 to play, Ochan, running full speed, managed to send another blast, this one from 35-yards, past one defender and over Brittingham’s helpless, outstretched hand into the net again to deliver the coup de grace.
The Rams defense and senior goalie Anthony Russo did the rest and they slammed the door on a most impressive 3-0 victory which improved Deering’s record to 3-0 and dropped the Bulldogs to 1-2 in the process, as the Rams beat Portland for the first time in seven tries.
“It feels great,” said Ochan, who beat the Bulldogs for the first time. “It’s always great to win a Deering-Portland game. It means a little bit more. When you see old players coming back to watch the game, you want to play better. We want to be able to say that it’s our town.”
While Friday’s contest was only the third game of the young season for each team, it came with a late-season intensity due to the rivalry and the fact that the league appears wide open this fall, meaning that every victory is paramount in the quest for a high playoff seed.
Deering and Portland needed no introduction. Regardless of the sport, both schools desperately want to beat the other and when both programs are strong, as they appear to be this autumn, the intensity ratchets up a notch.
The Rams opened with a 2-1 win at Cheverus, then handled host Massabesic, 5-0.
The Bulldogs enjoyed a 5-0 victory at Sanford in their opener, then dropped a hard-fought 1-0 decision to defending Class A champion Scarborough.
Coming into the lone regular season meeting between the rivals, Portland had “won” four in a row (and gone 5-0-1 over the past six seasons), but the Bulldogs had to forfeit the 2012 victory after it was learned they inadvertently used a player whose age exceeded Maine Principals’ Association regulations.
Last fall, Portland prevailed at home, 2-0.
Friday, the Bulldogs hoped to continue their domination, but Deering rose up and beat its rivals for the first time since Sept. 4, 2007.
The Rams hinted early that they would be testing Brittingham regularly.
In the eighth minute, Ochan’s free kick was headed on target by senior Yannick Sendanna, but Brittingham made the save.
Four minutes later, Bujambi served the ball toward Madrid Brenis, but Portland senior Connor Bruce cleared it from harm’s way.
In the 12th minute, Madrid Brenis floated the ball in Bujambi’s direction, but again Brittingham got it first.
Deering’s next threat, however, resulted in the ball finding the net.
On a counterattack, Madrid Brenis sent the ball ahead to Bujambi and Bujambi’s shot got past Brittingham to make it 1-0 Rams with 25:41 to play in the first half.
Deering almost doubled its lead in the 18th minute, but Ochan’s header off a long serve was tipped over the crossbar by Brittingham.
The Bulldogs almost drew even with 18:16 to play in the half, but senior Jonathan Bobe’s header trickled just wide of the post.
In the 22nd minute, the Rams went back on the attack, but senior Hany Ramadan had his shot deflected just wide.
Then, with 2:35 to play before halftime, Deering doubled its lead.
The Rams earned a free kick, Ochan lined it up and his long rocket found its way past Brittingham’s outstretched hand and into the upper corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead.
“Coach (Joel Costigan) tells me, ‘If you see something, try it,'” Ochan said. “I thought I hit it well.”
“The free kick looks simple, but it’s not simple,” Costigan said. “We’ve been working on it. There are a lot of options.”
While fans marveled over that strike, it would prove pedestrian to what was to come in the second half.
Portland put the pressure on to start the second stanza and with 36:51 remaining, almost cut its deficit in half, but a header off a corner from senior Haron Habibzai, which caught Deering senior goalkeeper Anthony Russo out of the cage, went just wide.
Then, with 29:20 to play, Ochan raised the bar and produced the prettiest goal this young season has witnessed and one of the finest you’ll see anywhere at this level.
Ochan got the ball just inside midfield, took a touch and with just a sliver of room, at full speed, left-footed a blast past a defender and it was clear when the ball left his foot, that Ochan had done something special.
The shot quickly made up the 35-yard distance and even though Brittingham gave his all in a leap to try and make the save, it was ticketed for the net and tickled the twine to effectively end the competitive phase of the contest.
“Coach has taught me since freshman year to watch what the keeper is doing,” Ochan said. “To be aware. I saw an opportunity and I just stuck it in there. It’s always nice to score a highlight-reel goal. My teammates like when I do something well. I try to motivate others.”
“Stephan has three goals this season and they’re all left-footed,” Costigan said. “We made fun of him last season because he kept missing high. He’s taking his shots left-footed and he’s making them. On the run, hitting it left-footed was amazing.”
Portland could only shake its head in amazement.
“(Stephan) put on quite a show,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “I think he’s every bit as legitimate as we all knew. It was his night. He’s an absolute talent. We did what we thought we could do against him, but he hit perfect shots.”
The Rams almost got another goal with 19:58 to play, but Brittingham made an athletic play to save a one-timer off the foot of Ramadan.
Down the stretch, Portland junior Matt Alvarez had a rush broken up in the box and a blast off the foot of junior Sam Farr sailed just high.
Deering then slammed the door and celebrated its 3-0 triumph.
“It means a lot to these guys to be able to say we’re a very good team,” Costigan said. “In the past, I felt we had a really good team that could compete, but mentally, we couldn’t get it done. We got cards or stupid fouls. We’re limiting that, so far. We’re trying to prove we can play in different ways.
“Portland does a great job applying pressure. They’re solid athletically. We were forced to play with our speed, which was effective. We haven’t had it in the past. We’ve worked on changing gears. We always have something to fall back on. We have physicality in our center-mids. We have speed in our outside-mids and our forwards. We also have size.”
Frenzilli was realistic in the postgame, knowing that all good things must end.
“(The Rams) were ready tonight,” he said. “Deering is obviously for real. We tried to change it up in the second half. We took a little out of the back and tried to push it forward. We had some chances, but not enough to get by. Anthony’s a great goalkeeper. If you hit balls at him, you won’t beat him. We needed to look for openings, but they weren’t there. Credit to Deering. They closed us down tonight. Joel had them ready.
“I told the team after the game, ‘You know, you’ll be getting all kinds of (guff) from these guys, but it’s good natured, it’s respectful and it goes both ways.’ What I want them to realize is yes there are bragging rights, but it’s just a game.”
There’s a lot of fun to come for both teams.
Portland is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Noble in a playoff rematch. The Bulldogs play at Bonny Eagle Thursday, then host Thornton Academy Saturday, Sept. 20. Portland also has tests remaining at Cheverus and Gorham and at home versus South Portland.
“We’ll build on this,” Frenzilli said. “It’s a long season. We’ll come back next week and see how it all shakes out. The parity in this league is what it is. We have to get used to it. We’ll be back.”
Deering’s road gets no easier as powerhouse Gorham pays a visit Tuesday. Thursday, the Rams go to Noble and Saturday of next week, they host Windham. Deering also has a showdown at Scarborough (Oct. 7) looming.
“We’re trying to improve all season,” Ochan said. “As long as we’re on the same page, we’ll do something great.”
“I’m still nervous,” Costigan said. “We have two big games coming up. Gorham’s always been our Kryptonite. Noble has a good coach and really good players. Every game I think will be challenging.”
Deering junior Jonathan Bujambi (left), along with seniors Frankie Alvarez (10) and Stephan Ocahn, celebrate the game’s first goal.
Deering senior Frankie Alvarez heads the ball.
Portland senior Jonathan Bobe prepares to launch the ball.
Portland senior Connor Bruce and Deering sophomore Josue Samuel Madrid Brenis fight for possession.
Portland junior Sam Farr tries to keep the ball away from Deering sophomore Jonata Mbongo.
Deering senior Brendan McNally heads the ball away from Portland junior Matt Alvarez.
Deering senior Hany Ramadan beats Portland junior Erick Molina to the ball.
Deering senior goalkeeper Anthony Russo comes out to tip the ball away from Portland junior Josh Irving.
@ Portland 2 Deering 0
Portland 5 @ Deering 2
@ Portland 2 Deering 2 (tie)
Portland 2 @ Deering 1 (OT)
Deering 4 @ Portland 3
@ Deering 2 Portland 2 (tie)
@ Portland 1 Deering 1 (tie)
Portland 1 @ Deering 0
Deering senior Stephan Ochan (center) is mobbed by his teammates after one of his two highlight reel goals Friday night. Ochan and the Rams beat rival Portland, 3-0, their first victory over the Bulldogs since 2007.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.