Portland junior Inez Braceras plays the ball up the field as Thornton Academy senior Adeline Paradis defends during the Golden Trojans’ 1-0 win Wednesday evening.
PORTLAND—Soccer can be a cruel game where the team that dominates possession and shots can come away with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Except for frustration.
That was the predicament the Portland girls found themselves in Wednesday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium when they hosted Thornton Academy in a contest crucial for playoff positioning.
After the Bulldogs had an early flurry of shots saved by Golden Trojans senior goalkeeper Dana Sirois, the visitors saw an opportunity and pounced on it, as junior Hannah Niles threaded a pass to sophomore Alyanna Beaudoin behind the Portland defense and Beaudoin finished for a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
Things got even more frustrating for the Bulldogs in the second half, when they twice hit the crossbar, and they never could produce the equalizer in a 1-0 setback.
Portland fell to 3-6-1 on the season as Thornton Academy improved to 4-7, winning its third straight game.
“That’s how the game goes,” lamented Bulldogs coach Curtis Chapin. “We’re doing things the right way and as a coach, it’s hard to ask for more than that.”
As September gave way to October, the Bulldogs began showing life.
Portland opened with a 5-1 win at Massabesic, then hit a rough patch, losing at home to Marshwood (2-1) and defending regional champion Gorham (3-0), at Kennebunk (3-0) and Cheverus (2-0) and at home to Windham (4-3). After settling for a scoreless home tie with South Portland, the Bulldogs won at Falmouth (3-2) and at home over Westbrook (4-0).
Thornton Academy, meanwhile, lost its first five games: 3-1 at Marshwood, 5-1 at home to Gorham, 6-1 to visiting Scarborough, 4-1 at Sanford and 3-2 at South Portland. After getting in the win column with a 6-0 home victory over Massabesic, the Golden Trojans lost at home to Cheverus (3-1) and at Windham (2-1), before bouncing back to blank visiting Kennebunk (3-0) and host Deering (1-0).
Last, year, Portland got a penalty kick from Kate Johnson to beat Thornton Academy, 1-0, its first win over the Golden Trojans since 2004.
This time around, on a pleasant early-October evening (73 degrees at kickoff), Thornton Academy returned the favor.
After teams traded early corner kicks, the Bulldogs settled in on offense, but Sirois saved bids by Portland junior Grace Stacey, sophomore Isabella More, Stacey again and junior Sydney Girsch.
Then, with 21:56 on the first half clock, the Golden Trojans moved the ball into the attacking zone and a nice pass from Niles set Beaudoin free and Beaudoin beat Bulldogs sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Legere with a low shot for a 1-0 lead.
Portland tried to answer, but sophomore Annika More shot high and Isabella More had a shot saved, as did senior Morgan Kierstead.
Late in the half, Sirois denied a bid from Annika More, senior Gracie LaGrange sent a free kick high and a shot by Annika More from the side of the box was blocked.
The Bulldogs had a 7-4 edge in shots in the first half, but had nothing to show for it.
Form would hold in the second half as even the goal frame stymied the hosts.
Thornton Academy nearly doubled its lead two minutes into the second half, but senior Natalia Profenno missed just wide on the doorstep.
Portland then went back on the attack, but Annika More had a shot saved, as did Kierstead.
After long bids by Isabella More and LaGrange were grabbed by Sirois, Annika More left the game with an injury with 23:08 on the clock and wouldn’t return.
Adding insult to injury, just over a minute later, a bid from freshman Samira Doiron sailed over Sirois’ head but bounced off the crossbar and Girsch’s rebound attack sailed wide.
If that wasn’t agonizing enough, with 17:30 remaining, LaGrange got a little room just outside the box and fired a high, promising shot but it too rang off the crossbar.
Down the stretch, Doiron missed high and sophomore C.C. Ritter had a shot saved.
As time wound down, the Bulldogs earned a corner kick, but before Stacey could serve the ball into the box, the horn sounded and Thornton Academy held on for the 1-0 victory.
“We hit two crossbars and we had possession and shots, but the problem was, we gave away one early and we had to press,” Chapin said. “That’s what they wanted us to do.”
Portland put 14 shots on frame to five for the Golden Trojans and had a 4-3 edge in corner kicks, but couldn’t turn those numbers into a goal.
Legere made four saves for the Bulldogs, while Sirois stopped a dozen shots for the visitors and the crossbar spoiled two others.
While Thornton Academy (currently holding on to the 12th and final playoff spot in the Class A South Heal Points standings) returns to action next Thursday when rival Biddeford pays a visit, Portland (now 13th in the region) has four games left and still needs victories to ensure another postseason berth. After going to Noble Thursday, the Bulldogs are at Bonny Eagle, host Deering and close at Biddeford.
“It’s coming,” Chapin said. “We’ve done this before where we go through a drought, then we explode. We’re capable. The good news is we have Noble tomorrow, so we won’t have time to think about this.
“We expect to win. We’re a good team. We haven’t gotten the results that I believe our play deserves, but if we keep believing and keep working, I think we’ll be in the playoffs.”