PORTLAND—Soccer can be a humbling and frustrating sport.
It can also be validating and exhilarating.
The Portland boys’ squad ran the gamut of those emotions Tuesday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
After scoring just one goal during an 0-2-1 stretch over a 10-day span, the Bulldogs missed several opportunities against visiting Westbrook and when the Blue Blazes took a 1-0 lead late in the first half due in large part to a Portland defensive miscue, another painful loss appeared to be in store.
Then, just when all appeared lost, the Bulldogs’ offense reappeared.
With 11:18 to play in regulation, junior Brady Cyr took a pass from classmate Erick Molina-Garcia and fired a perfect shot into the net.
The game would go to overtime and Portland’s difficulties returned when senior Haron Habibzai shot wide on a breakaway, but the Bulldogs simply wouldn’t settle for anything short of a victory and two minutes into the second OT, sophomore Alex Frank intercepted a pass, beat a defender, then fired a low shot into the goal for a much-needed 2-1 victory.
Portland balanced its record at 5-5-2, dropped Westbrook to 6-5-2 and reminded everyone that despite all of its ups and downs, it can’t be overlooked when the playoffs roll around.
“These kids have just battled,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “They’ve been snake-bitten so many times, they just haven’t been able to get one in. I’m so happy for them. They work hard. They definitely deserve it.”
After reaching the Western A Final a year ago, Portland hasn’t enjoyed as much success this fall. 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 in a regional final rematch. After falling at rival Deering, 3-0, Portland beat visiting Noble (3-1) and tied at Bonny Eagle, 1-1. After falling at home to Thornton Academy (3-1), the Bulldogs beat visiting Massabesic (10-1) and host Marshwood (3-1), but one-goal losses followed at home to South Portland (1-0) and at Gorham (2-1). Saturday, Portland settled for a scoreless draw at Cheverus.
Westbrook has been up and down as well, but came to Fitzpatrick Stadium hoping to beat Portland for the first time since a 1-0 quarterfinal round playoff upset in 2008 and for the first time in the regular season since 2005.
Instead, the Bulldogs beat the Blue Blazes for the sixth consecutive time, even if it took awhile.
Portland started the game with great energy and almost took the lead on four separate occasions.
In the third minute, junior Sam Farr took a pass from Habibzai and broke in, but he touched the ball too far ahead and Westbrook junior goalkeeper D.J. Henrikson got to it first.
In the fifth minute, Henrikson had to react in timely fashion as a cross from Bulldogs senior Jonathan Bobe was headed by a defender toward the net, but Henrikson prevented the “own goal.”
In the 16th minute, Bobe crossd the ball to Farrr, but his shot was wide.
The best chance came with 21:56 to play in the first half, but Farr’s header of a Habibzai cross was denied by a diving Henrikson.
It took nearly 30 minutes for the Blue Blazes to have their first good chance, a shot from senior Isaiah Manoogian, which went just wide.
After Farr had a free kick saved and a bid from junior Varney Kai was turned aside by Brittingham, Westbrook broke through.
The goal came with 1:19 remaining in the half.
After a Portland foray resulted in the ball coming to Henrikson, the goalie delivered a long boot upfield and when the Bulldogs defense failed to play it cleanly, the ball wound up on the foot of Kai, who beat Brittingham for a 1-0 lead.
Despite controlling play for much of the first 40 minutes, Portland was behind at the break.
As they did in the second half, the Bulldogs came out on fire in the second, but couldn’t earn the equalizer.
After Frank sent a free kick just wide, Farr had a free kick blocked.
Brittingham kept the score 1-0 by denying a low shot from Westbrook junior Noor Abdulabas and a header off a throw from junior Jonathan Lapika.
With 23:31 to play, Habibzai tapped a long kick from junior Josh Irving just wide and four minutes later, Farr shot wide.
After Kai had a great look to double the lead, only to shoot high, a Bobe rush was broken up.
Just when all appeared lost, however, Portland came to life.
The tying goal came quickly, on a counterattack, as Molina-Garcia set up Cyr, who one-timed a shot to the far post which Henrikson couldn’t reach and with 11:18 remaining, the score was tied, 1-1.
“We just had to keep working,” Cyr said. “Coach said it best, ‘Why not us?’ It was frustrating, but we knew it would come sometime.”
The Bulldogs pushed hard to win it in regulation, but Farr sent a free kick high and a left-footed shot from Habibzai went wide.
In high school soccer, teams play two, five-minute, “sudden victory” overtimes and if no one scores, the game goes in the books as a draw.
That wouldn’t be the case Tuesday.
Westbrook had the first good chance in OT, but Abdulabas shot high.
Then, in transition, Portland seemingly got the chance it was waiting for, when Farr sent a pass ahead to Habibzai, who stayed on-sides and broke in free behind the defense.
Habibzai only had to beat Henrikson to end it, but he sent his shot wide.
As time wound down, Blue Blazes junior Patrick Weimer forced Brittingham to leap to make a save and Bulldogs junior Wade Faria shot wide.
It was on to the second overtime where Portland brought things to an end.
The Bulldogs first had a chance on a corner kick and Cyr’s serve found the head of senior Will Sarvis, but Sarvis sent his shot high.
But just when Westbrook appeared primed to transition the other way, Frank stole the ball on the right sideline and had some room to work with. Frank dribbled toward the box, Henrikson cut off the near post and Frank fired a shot toward the far post that tickled the twine and gave Portland a scintillating 2-1 victory.
“It felt great to score,” Frank said. “We haven’t been able to score. I knew it would happen. We’ve been coming close every game. I trusted myself that I could put it past (the goalie). I saw him set up at the post and decided to hit it (back post). I thought it was going in. The whole game I was feeling we could get it done. I feel like it was meant to happen.”
“Alex made a great individual play,” Frenzilli said. “When it left his foot, I knew it had a chance. Hopefully it gets the guys rejuvenated a bit.
“At halftime, we told them there were still 40 minutes of soccer left. Westbrook played great, but I’m happy with how we played. We’ve played with everybody box to box this year, but when we get in the final third, we haven’t been able to score. We know we can play with anybody and in this league, it’s anybody’s game. We wanted the guys to believe in themselves. Winning is more fun than losing. I’m just happy for the boys. They could have folded and they didn’t. As a coach, you can’t be prouder.”
The Bulldogs outshot the Blue Blazes, 16-11, and had four corner kicks to just one for the visitors. Brittingham made six saves, while Henrikson stopped three shots.
Westbrook (ninth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings as of press time) finishes the regular season Thursday when Cheverus pays a visit.
Portland, meanwhile, is ranked eighth and visits Windham Friday and closes at home versus Biddeford Tuesday.
The Bulldogs believe their best soccer is still ahead of them.
“This gives us confidence,” Cyr said. “I know we have a lot of revenge to take care of from close games.”
“We had a rough start, but we’ve come together and now we’re a team,” Frank said.
If Portland wins out, the Biddeford game would be the 200th victory of Frenzilli’s long career with the boys’ team.
“We got together yesterday and everybody has a wish list, so I told them I wished for three wins and I hope it’s your group, so I can tell everyone it’s your group that did it,” Frenzilli said, of the looming milestone. “I don’t know how high we can go (in the standings), I just want to get in. It’s house money if we get in. I hope we can play our best soccer at the end.”
Portland senior Jonathan Bobe plays the ball up the wing.
Portland freshman Quinn Clarke throws the ball in from the sidelines.
Portland junior Brady Cyr fights for possession. Cyr tied the game in the second half.
Portland junior Wade Faria plays the ball in the middle of the field.
Portland senior Haron Habibzai goes up to head the ball.
Portland junior Erick Molina-Garcia finds some operating room.
Portland 5 @ Westbrook 0
@ Portland 2 Westbrook 1
Portland 4 @ Westbrook 2
@ Portland 4 Westbrook 1
Portland 3 @ Westbrook 2
@ Portland 1 Westbrook 0
Western A quarterfinals
Westbrook 1 @ Portland 0
@ Westbrook 2 Portland 2 (tie)
@ Portland 2 Westbrook 1
@ Westbrook 3 Portland 2
@ Westbrook 3 Portland 2
Portland junior goalkeeper Bobby Brittingham boots the ball during Tuesday’s home game versus Westbrook. The Bulldogs rallied for a 2-1 win in double overtime.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.