PORTLAND-On a night where pink was prevelant, the Portland boys’ soccer team left the Cheverus Stags blue.
Fitzpatrick Stadium was the site of an inspirational pregame ceremony in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness. The field was adorned with pink ribbons, the teams played with a pink soccer ball and the hosts dominated from start to finish.
Junior standout Fazal Nabi scored three times and the Bulldogs scored three goals in each half as they earned a critical and Heal Points-rich 6-1 home victory over the Stags.
“This was a very special night,” said longtime Portland coach Rocky Frenzilli. “We talk a lot about firsts. This is the first game we’ve played for this cause. I’m happy the
boys were able to come out with a victory. I appreciate Cheverus coming
over and joining us in this thing.”
Night to remember
The genesis of the evening’s theme came last summer when Portland High athletic director Rich Drummond purchased pink soccer balls. Frenzilli took it from there.
“I thought (the pink balls) were awesome and wanted to do something with them,” Frenzilli said. “I
told Rich one afternoon that I wanted to do a Breast Cancer Awareness.
We have three or four teachers who are survivors. The kids all know
someone, as we all do. I thought it would be a nice thing. Rich called
Gary (Hoyt, the Cheverus athletic director). I called (Cheverus boys’ soccer coach Bill LeBlanc) and he said it’s a great idea. It worked out well.
It was great.”
Prior to the game, breast cancer survivors in the crowd were encouraged the stand. They were applauded and given a rose by a player. Donations were accepted as well.
The Stags entered the contest with a 6-2-1 mark, losing only to Gorham and Scarborough, while also tying Windham. Thursday night, in its last outing, Cheverus, despite playing much of the time a man down, held off dangerous Kennebunk 2-1.
Portland, meanwhile, had yet to hit its stride. The Bulldogs, one of the preseason favorites, lost two of their first three games and were just 2-3-2 before winning 6-0 over Biddeford last Tuesday and earning a confidence-boosting 3-2 triumph at Westbrook in a playoff rematch Thursday.
Tuesday night, Portland quickly made a statement, as junior Oryem Charles had a great look in the second minute, but his rocket was deflected over the crossbar by Cheverus junior goalkeeper Peter Pothoff.
In the ninth minute, the Bulldogs went ahead to stay when on a corner kick, their fifth in eight minutes, sophomore Brett O’Kelly followed a shot from sophomore Paley Burlin which had hit a defender, and slammed home the rebound to make it 1-0.
With 27:01 left int he first half, Portland went up 2-0 when senior Andrew Capelluti passed to junior A.J. Hasanovic, who hit a left footed blast into the cage.
After a couple of Cheverus forays went for naught, Nabi got in on the act in the 32nd minute, firing a low shot from 20 yards out that Pothoff slowed, but couldn’t stop before it tickled the twine.
With 2:57 to go in the half, the visitors got on the board when sophomore Nick Melville’s shot was saved by Portland senior goakeeper Justin Knight only to have senior Thomas Mourmouras bang home the rebound to make it 3-1.
The Bulldogs had nine corner kicks to none for the Stags in the first half and had a huge territorial edge, but it was still a game as the second half began.
Nabi then set about ending all suspense.
In the 11th minute of the second half, on another corner kick, Burlin’s feed found the head of a surprisingly wide open Nabi in front of the net for a 4-1 lead.
“I’ve been getting triple marked and it was frustrating, but I’ve gotten used to it,” Nabi said. “I was surprised I was so open.”
With 19:54 to go, Nabi beat a defender and flicked a shot over the head of the oncoming Pothoff to make it 5-1. Both teams cleared their benches moments later and with 9:29 to play, freshman Tim Rovnak blasted home a shot to give Portland its final tally in its 6-1 victory.
“It was a really good win,” said Nabi. “We came out hard. I thought from the last game against Westbrook if we brought that same intensity we’d be fine. We took the fact that they were No. 4 in the standings as motivation. I think we’re peaking at the right time. We started slow, but we turned it around.”
Portland improved to 5-3-2 and figures to move up from the 11th spot in the Western Class A Heal Points standings the Bulldogs found themselves Tuesday morning.
“I’m just so happy for the kids,” added Frenzilli. “We’ve been through it this year and they’ve persevered and done everything we asked them to do. I feel if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can play with anyone. (Cheverus) is a very good team. They’re well coached. We were very fortunate tonight. The kids played hard. I thought they earned the win.
“If (Fazal) gets touches on the ball, he’s deadly. He got a lot of touches tonight. He got in some nice scoring spots. We said at halftime if it goes to 3-2 it would be a dogfight, but if we made it 4-1 we’d get some separation and that’s what happened.”
The Bulldogs had 13 corner kicks to just two for the Stags as Cheverus fell to 6-3-1.
“As well as we’ve been playing, that’s the worst we’ve played,” LeBlanc said. “We
played Kennebunk a man down and won 2-1, but we came here and laid an
egg. In the last couple years, we were resilient and came back, but
tonight we got down. We left the best player in the league wide open in
the second half to make it 4-1. Fazal’s by far the best player in the
state and he showed it tonight. We had a poor performance.”
The Stags return to action Thursday when they host Westbrook. Cheverus also has games remaining against Thornton Academy, Deering and South Portland.
“Last time we
had a poor performance, we bounced back with two good weeks,” said LeBlanc, alluding to the aftermath of a 5-0 home loss to Scarborough. “We have
some points out there. We’ll be between 4 and 7 if we take care of
Portland goes to Massabesic Thursday. The Bulldogs will also play Marshwood, South Portland and Bonny Eagle before all is said and done.
“I think they’re buying into what we’re saying to them, they’re
believing in themselves and playing as a team,” Frenzilli said. “When we do that, we’re
dangerous. We have
some nice games at the end. Tonight was a win, but all it gets us is a date
Thursday with Massabesic.”
Expect Breast Cancer Awareness to return next year, perhaps as an even bigger production.
“Next year what we’ll try and do is have a doubleheader at Deering with
Deering and South Portland and have more people involved,” LeBlanc said. “It is a good
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org