South Portland senior Charlie Cronin (10) is congratulated by junior Aleks Kaurin after scoring one of his two goals in the Red Riots’ 2-0 win at Westbrook Monday evening. South Portland finished the regular season a program-best 13-0-1.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
WESTBROOK—The finest regular season in the annals of the South Portland boys’ soccer program is in the books and the Red Riots are only getting started.
Monday evening, South Portland traveled to Westbrook and in another strong 80-minute performance, demonstrated why it’s a favorite to play into November.
The Red Riots came out firing and had several good scoring chances, but were frustrated due to the strong play of Blue Blazes’ senior goalkeeper Jacob Brackett.
Finally, with 14:53 to go in the first half, South Portland senior standout Charlie Cronin finished a feed from classmate Kyle Patterson to break the ice.
The dynamic tandem then hooked up again with 2:09 to play before halftime for a little breathing room.
While the Red Riots weren’t able to add to their lead, they never gave Westbrook any life and went on to a 2-0 victory.
South Portland finished the regular season a program-best 13-0-1, went undefeated in the regular year for the first time and dropped the Blue Blazes to 5-9 in the process.
“It’s indicative of the group of guys we’ve got,” said Red Riots coach Bryan Hoy. “It’s such a good team and the guys play together and for each other. It’s been really special. We talked about how successful we wanted to be and we’re where we wanted to be. I’m proud of the guys for coming together.”
South Portland posted a solid 12 wins a year ago, but the 2017 campaign has been something else entirely for the Red Riots, who have scored a steady stream of goals, while holding the opposition at bay.
South Portland opened with a 3-0 victory at Thornton Academy and after playing visiting Gorham, the defending regional champion, to a scoreless tie, the Red Riots downed visiting Marshwood (2-0), host Biddeford (4-0), visiting Massabesic (7-1), host Noble (6-0), visiting Kennebunk (5-0), host Windham (7-2) and visiting Falmouth (2-0). A 3-0 win at Cheverus gave Hoy 100 career victories and South Portland followed that up with victories over visiting Bonny Eagle (5-0), at Portland (1-0) and at home over Sanford (2-1).
Westbrook began with a 6-1 home loss to Gorham, fell 2-1 at Massabesic, then righted its ship with a 4-1 home victory over Noble. The Blue Blazes then let a late lead slip away in a 3-2 loss at Scarborough. After a 3-1 win at Kennebunk, Westbrook lost to visiting Windham (2-1), at Falmouth (3-0) and at home to Cheverus (4-0). After beating host Bonny Eagle (4-0), the Blue Blazes lost at home to Portland (3-1) and won at Sanford (3-0). Following a 4-3 home loss to Marshwood, Westbrook got back on track Saturday, beating host Deering, 1-0.
Last year, South Portland enjoyed a 4-1 victory at Westbrook.
Monday, on a chilly (50-degrees) and windy evening, the Blue Blazes hoped to hand the Red Riots their first regular season loss since Sept. 15, 2016 and beat them for the first time since Sept. 18, 2008 (2-0 at home), but instead, South Portland capped its finest-ever regular season in style and improved to 7-0-2 over the past nine meetings against Westbrook.
Exactly a minute into the game, Red Riots senior Kyle Patterson, who came to the program this fall from defending regional champion Gorham, raced in looking to break the ice, but in a frustrating sign of things to come for Patterson, he was robbed by Brackett.
After junior Alecks Kaurin shot high, Cronin missed wide, then shot high with his left foot.
In the 10th minute, with Brackett out, Patterson took a pass from junior Cooper Mehlhorn and had a lot of net to shoot at, but he sent his shot just wide.
Patterson had another chance a minute later on a breakaway, but he shot high.
After South Portland sophomore Anthony Perron missed wide, the hosts had their first good chance, but a redirect by senior Caleb Barlow off a pass from senior Jean Marc Lohomboli was saved by Red Riots senior goalkeeper Riley Hasson.
South Portland then went back on the attack, but Kaurin missed wide, Brackett robbed Patterson on the doorstep with a kick save and a Patterson shot off a throw from junior Jacob Milton was saved by Brackett as well.
Then, with 14:53 to go before halftime, the Patterson-Cronin combination produced the game’s first goal.
Cronin circled in behind Patterson and took a nice touch pass from his teammate before firing a low shot which Brackett couldn’t stop for a 1-0 lead.
“I was playing balls to Kyle and he played balls to me and we just couldn’t finish,” Cronin said. “It was frustrating. They have a good keeper, credit to him, but it could have been a much higher scoring game. I went through, (Kyle) played it and I played a touch with my left (foot) and buried it.”
After Hasson preserved the lead with a save off a shot from Barlow, South Portland doubled its lead with 2:09 on the first half clock.
In transition, Patterson played the ball ahead, but was stopped by a defender. Cronin, catching up to the play, called for the ball, took the pass, then fired a high rocket past Brackett and into the net to make it 2-0.
“I played it to (Kyle), he made a great touch and I hit it,” Cronin said. “It’s weird. He came in and worked so well together. Once the ball gets into the front third, me, Kyle, Perron and Cooper work together so well.”
“(Charlie and Kyle) understand we don’t look for shots, we look for finishes,” Hoy said. “We’ve scored (49 goals) this year and most of them were off passes that we tapped into the back of the net. Charlie is a great player. He controls the ball so well. He’s so smart with the ball and he finishes. He gives us an extra layer of offense.”
Late in the half, Hasson saved a couple long shots from Westbrook senior Grayson Post to allow the visitors to take a two-goal lead to the break.
The Red Riots wouldn’t add to their lead in the second half, but managed to hold the Blue Blazes at bay.
As was the case to start the game, Patterson was frustrated early in the second stanza, as his well-struck ball rang off the right post.
Brackett robbed Patterson with 28:50 remaining, stopped a Mehlhorn shot four minutes later and denied bids from Kaurin, Cronin, Patterson and Kaurin again.
Westbrook got a look from senior Austin Pierce, which went wide, and South Portland’s defense did the rest, closing the door on a 2-0 victory.
“Our back four have been strong all year,” Hoy said. “Alecks does a great job in the middle. (Seniors) Sean Scott and Riley Ellis do a great job too. We bracketed their great striker today. The outside guys picked up the slack. It was a good effort all around.
“It was special today since I’m a Westbrook graduate. Before the game, they recognized my 100th victory. They have a great program over here. They’ll be a tough team in the prelim and maybe further. They have a lot of talent.”
The Red Riots finished with a 14-4 advantage in shots on frame and took five corner kicks to the Blue Blazes one. Hasson saved all four shots he saw.
Brackett stopped 11 shots, but it wasn’t enough.
“Their keeper played really well,” Hoy said. “Their back line is strong. We did a nice job of staying organized and moving them well. We hopefully got (the misses) out of our system, because we can’t miss those in the playoffs.”
South Portland’s previous best regular season came in 1988 (12-1-1). The Red Riots had never before won 13 games in the regular season or finished without a loss.
“It’s such a great feeling to be the first South Portland team to have this record and go undefeated,” Cronin said. “As a team. we’ve built up to this. It’s a great feeling for not just me, but the whole team. Based off summer soccer, I knew we’d be good, but I thought we’d have gaps to fill. Honestly, I didn’t expect this, but as the season progressed, we improved and got to this point.”
While Westbrook (10th in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) prepares to go on the road for a preliminary round playoff game this weekend (likely at Cheverus, Deering or Scarborough), South Portland will wait and see how the final standings shake out, then, for the first time in memory, will be the favorite as the postseason begins.
The Red Riots will host a quarterfinal round playoff game next Wednesday and they’re ready to make a run.
“I think the biggest thing is we can’t lose our focus,” Cronin said. “We can’t let down having time off. We have to keep working hard and getting better every day. I think we’re ready.”
“I think this will be enough to put us 1, but I don’t do the math,” Hoy said. “The longer we can stay home the better. We know our field and we’re used to it. Other teams have to come in and adjust and we keep doing what we do.
“In the playoffs, you have to have a goal-scorer and goalie to be successful and everything else helps. We have a great goalie and four really good goal-scorers, so we have the pieces in place for a long run.”
South Portland junior Cooper Mehlhorn and Westbrook senior Brandt Herbert chase the ball.
South Portland senior Kyle Patterson is robbed by Westbrook senior goalkeeper Jacob Brackett as sophomore Mahamed Sharif looks on.
South Portland sophomore Anthony Perron gets his head on the ball.
South Portland junior Alecks Kaurin boots the ball as Westbrook senior Sajjard Abdulabas defends.
South Portland senior Charlie Cronin shields the ball from Westbrook senior Grayson Post.
South Portland senior Kyle Patterson has a rush broken up by Westbrook senior Sajjad Abdulabas.
South Portland junior Dylan Houle plays the ball between Westbrook sophomore Mohamed Mohamed (2) and senior Jean Marc Lohomboli.