SOUTH PORTLAND—Some rebuilding year.
Scarborough’s boys’ soccer team, the state’s gold standard over the past decade, was expected by many to fade into mediocrity this autumn, but for one night at least, the Red Storm look championship-worthy once again.
At the expense of a rival that felt it was their turn to take the next step.
Friday evening at Martin Memorial Field, in a highly anticipated season opener, Scarborough and South Portland put on an entertaining display, but by halftime, the Red Storm were in a familiar place.
Ahead on the scoreboard.
Moments after a sensational defensive play from junior Matt Caron kept the game scoreless, Scarborough went on top courtesy a penalty kick from last year’s state game hero, senior Sam Ware.
Back roared the Red Riots, as their junior standout, Ahmed Suja, converted a free kick in highlight reel fashion to tie the score.
But just when it looked like South Portland had momentum, Caron’s intangibles returned, as his ability to throw the ball from the sideline into the box led to a pair of goals in a 3 minute, 10 second span.
With 9:10 to go before halftime, sophomore Garrett King finished a Caron throw to put Scarborough ahead for good. Then, with 6 minutes showing, junior Jake Kacer did the same and the visitors had a 3-1 advantage at the break.
The coup de grace came less than two minutes into the second half when King finished a picturesque cross from sophomore Noah Stracqualursi and the Red Storm’s defense slammed the door from there as they went on to a statement-making 4-1 triumph.
King had two goals, Caron added two assists and Scarborough improved to 13-0-1 all-time against its neighbor and extended its unbeaten streak in season openers to 13 years.
“It was a good start,” said longtime Red Storm coach Mark Diaz. “You could see my kids were nervous. South Portland’s a good team. They played well. They showed that the first 15, 20 minutes. Once we got through that, I thought we settled down and played better.”
Scarborough entered Friday night’s contest 12-0-1 all-time against South Portland (see sidebar, below), having outscored the Red Riots, 39-4, in the process (that includes a pair of Red Storm playoff victories).
There have been a few close calls. In the very first meeting, in 2003, the game was scoreless until the waning moments when Scarborough won a disputed indirect kick. In 2007, the Red Storm held on for a 2-1 victory at home. The teams tied, 2-2, in 2012 and last year, in the Western A quarterfinals, South Portland hung tough, but Scarborough eventually prevailed, 2-0.
The Red Storm then went on to win their sixth state title in nine seasons (beating Hampden Academy in an overtime thriller to cap a 17-1 season), but have a very different look this fall after graduation took its toll. That’s led some to believe that Scarborough might be vulnerable.
If so, the Red Riots believe they can be a team that takes advantage. After going 9-6-1 in 2013 and with a lot of talent returning, there’s reason for high hopes.
Friday, South Portland, which was forced to play without injured senior midfielder Andrew Whipple and senior goalkeeper Henry Curran, had its moments, but you need 80 of them to beat the Red Storm juggernaut, which just keeps keeping on and made sure that its last loss in an opener remains a 3-1 setback at Yarmouth Sept, 1, 2001.
The game’s first chance belonged to Suja, who eluded a defender and fired a low shot from the side which Scarborough senior goalkeeper Sam Warren calmly collected.
In the 14th minute, the Red Riots almost scored the all-important first goal, which could have completely changed the complexion of the game, but it never happened.
On a corner kick, Suja served the ball into the box and with Warren coming out to challenge, sophomore Khalid Suja headed the ball over the goalie for the apparent icebreaker. Instead, Caron, waiting at the far post, headed the shot out of harm’s way and the game remained deadlocked.
“I was on the back post,” said Caron. “Sam came out to try and make a save. The guy just headed it over his head. I wanted to get it out and have it not go in. That was definitely a big turning point.”
“That was as much of a key as the first goal,” Diaz said.
Seven minutes later, with 19:57 left before halftime, the visitors got a break and struck for the game’first goal.
After dribbling the ball down the right sideline, sophomore Spencer Pettingill tried to cross it toward the goal, but it was deflected by a defender. Trouble was for the hosts, the ball deflected off the defender’s arm and since it happened in the box, the official gave Scarborough a penalty kick.
Ware, whose blast to win the 2013 Class A state game will long live in Red Storm lore, did the honors and he sent a high shot past freshman goalie Riley Hasson into the net for a 1-0 lead.
South Portland answered with 14:11 remaining in the half.
After earning a free kick just outside the box, Ahmed Suja didn’t try to kick it over or around the three-man Scarborough wall in front of Warren. Instead, he somehow split the defenders, causing Warren to momentarily hesitate and by the time the goalie saw the ball, he was helpless and watched it soar into the net to tie the game, 1-1.
The Red Riots were on the verge of taking the lead, but it never happened.
After Hasson saved a Ware free kick and King headed a free kick from senior Ian Corey just wide, Caron made sure the Red Storm retook the lead for good, courtesy his arms.
His throw from the side soared all the way into the box and after the ball wasn’t cleared, King banged it home to put Scarborough ahead for good with 9:10 to go in the half.
“I try to utilize my throws,” Caron said. “I try to put it over the goalie’s head. We usually have a guy right on the goalie and he’s either trying to pick him or flick it on to someone else. It’s a weapon. Garrett’s a great player. He finds a way to get open. He has a great shot.”
“It’s like a second corner,” King said. “It’s a real weapon. I was just in the right place. It just kind of happens. It’s really about playing together. None of us have played together on a big stage like this.”
If that wasn’t enough, Caron did it again three minutes later as this time, Kacer banged home a loose ball for a suddenly commanding 3-1 advantage.
“We started to play our style and I felt more comfortable,” Diaz said. “We’ll have a lot of nights like this where we’ll have to dig deep. Matt’s always been good, but tonight he was special. He’s a leader. He played a lot last year. He was a big part of what we did and knows what we’re about. His composure is getting better.”
“Those throws are tough,” said South Portland coach Bryan Hoy. “On one of them, the goalie was a little bit out of position, but I don’t think it was his fault. He tried to get in position, but wasn’t allowed to get in position. They scored a couple good goals.”
If the competitive phase of the contest wasn’t over at halftime, it was 114 seconds into the second half.
After a nice run down the right flank by Stracqualursi, who is as tough to defend as his name is to spell, he crossed the ball to King in front, who, never missing stride, buried a shot for a 4-1 advantage.
“Noah had a good ball,” King said. “A lot of people don’t expect him to beat defenders, but we do.”
“Garrett works hard and is getting better every day,” Diaz said.
“That fourth one was the game,” lamented Hoy. “You could feel the air come out.”
To its credit, South Portland played hard the rest of the way and Hasson made some nice saves, but ultimately Scarborough prevailed by the 4-1 margin.
“We had some younger players who needed to step up and they definitely did their job today,” Caron said. “It was an all-around great effort by the team. We put the pressure on and we carried it from there.”
South Portland could only tip its cap.
“(Scarborough’s) a good team, obviously,” Hoy said. “We’re a little banged up right now, but we did not play well. I don’t think I saw us connect more than three or four passes at a time. In the preseason, we were connecting 25, 30 passes at a time. We have to work on that a little bit. It’s encouraging that we competed. Some guys stepped up really well in some other guys’ absences.”
The road gets no easier for either team.
South Portland hopes to bounce back Tuesday when it hosts Thornton Academy. Thursday, the Red Riots go to Gorham, another potential powerhouse.
“We have a tough schedule coming up,” Hoy said. “We have to get rid of this one quick. If not, we’ll be in trouble. We really didn’t play our game today. We got flustered and got away from what we can do. We have to stick with the game plan.”
Scarborough is right back at it Tuesday with another stern test, at Portland, which was the lone squad to beat the Red Storm in 2013 (Scarborough avenged that setback with a win in the regional final). Thursday, the Red Storm plays their home opener versus Biddeford.
“We’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Caron said. “We have a big game against Portland. They’ll be fired up for us.”
“We need to get more composure,” Diaz said. “We have to mark better and sort things out.”
South Portland senior Max Carr heads the ball away from Scarborough junior Matt Caron.
Scarborough junior Ian Corey gets a step on South Portland junior Ahmed Suja.
South Portland junior defender Brian Elsemore tries to keep the ball away from Scarborough sophomore Garrett King.
South Portland freshman goalkeeper Riley Hasson dives on a loose ball as Scarborough senior Wyatt Bridgham pressures.
Scarborough sophomore Garrett King, who scored twice, is defended by South Portland junior Alex Livingston.
Dangerous South Portland junior Ahmed Suja is defended by Scarborough junior Ian Corey (7) and senior Sam Ware.
Scarborough senior goalkeeper Sam Warren collects a shot as (from left) senior Ian Corey and juniors Nick Lorello and Matt Caron provide protection.
South Portland senior Silas Zechman heads the ball away from Scarborough sophomore Alex Giles.
@ Scarborough 5 South Portland 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Scarborough 2 South Portland 0
@ South Portland 2 Scarborough 2 (tie)
@ Scarborough 2 South Portland 0
Scarborough 3 @ South Portland 0
@ Scarborough 4 South Portland 1
Western A quarterfinals
@ Scarborough 4 South Portland 0
Scarborough 2 @ South Portland 0
@ Scarborough 2 South Portland 1
Scarborough 4 @ South Portland 0
@ Scarborough 2 South Portland 0
@ Scarborough 6 South Portland 0
Scarborough 1 @ South Portland 0
Scarborough senior Sam Ware is chased by classmate Wyatt Bridgham after scoring the first goal of Friday night’s 4-1 victory at South Portland. The two-time defending Class A champion Red Storm stayed undefeated all-time against the Red Riots.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.