PORTLAND—While it came at a hefty cost, the South Portland boys’ soccer team was happy to escape its trip to Deering Tuesday night with a victory.
The Red Riots lost senior Dan Grazewski to a gruesome leg injury midway through the first half, but rallied and got the job done.
Senior Nemaja Kaurin scored on a penalty kick in the first half and set up junior Damjan Draskovic for a goal in the second half as South Portland went on to a 2-0 victory, improving to 3-1-1, dropping the Rams to 3-3.
“We did what we do, play soccer, and we did it really well tonight,” said Red Riots coach Bryan Hoy. “We’re coming along pretty well.”
South Portland, coming off its best season in two decades, which ended with a quarterfinal round playoff loss to Gorham, opened the 2011 campaign with a 3-0 loss at perennial powerhouse Scarborough. The Red Riots then downed Massabesic (4-0) and Biddeford (7-0) before settling for a 2-2 home tie with Westbrook.
Deering, meanwhile, has faced its share of tragedy this autumn. The Rams, who fell short of the postseason in 2010, began the new year with home wins over Massabesic (1-0) and Westbrook (2-0). After a 2-0 loss at rival Portland, Deering lost senior Mohamed Hassan in a drowning accident. The Rams honored Hassan in a pregame ceremony last Thursday and went on to beat visiting Noble, 2-0, but lost, 4-0, in a makeup game at Gorham Monday.
Last year, South Portland downed Deering, 3-2. Tuesday, the Rams were seeking their first win over the Red Riots in four tries (the last was Sept. 12, 2007, 5-0), but it wasn’t to be.
Early on, Deering had its chances, but after taking a feed from freshman Stephen Ochan, senior Brandon Saucier shot high in the sixth minute and 90 seconds later, sophomore David Ndayishimiye’s long shot was saved by Red Riots’ senior goalkeeper Shawn Shannon.
With 23:34 to go in the 40-minute first half, South Portland had its first good bid as Kaurin sent a long lead pass to Grazewski, whose shot from the side was punched away by Deering senior goalkeeper Jamie Gullbrand, leading to a corner kick, which didn’t generate a good look.
The game changed with 19:20 left in the half when Grazewski broke in on goal, Gullbrand raced out and slid for the ball and the players collided.
Gullbrand got up, but Grazewski couldn’t after breaking his leg.
After a 20-minute delay, play resumed and the Red Riots were awarded a penalty kick after Gullbrand was ruled to have brought down Grazewski, preventing him from scoring.
Hoy chose Kaurin to take the PK and South Portland’s leading scorer each of the past two years ripped a shot into the left corner of the net, just to the diving Gullbrand’s right, for his seventh goal of 2011 and a 1-0 lead.
“Personally, I thought (Dan) got there first and the ball was through,” said Kaurin. “When a goalie hits a player like that, it should be a red (card), or at least a yellow. I was kind of disappointed that he was able to stay on the field. I don’t think he had any intention to hurt him, but it has to be a yellow or red card since he would have scored, but he hit him.
“I was a little nervous. I kept my cool and the goalie almost had it, but I was lucky to get it in.”
“I thought we had possession of the game before then, but we couldn’t crack the back of the net,” Hoy said. “If we get a PK opportunity and Nem gets up there, he doesn’t miss. He’s been on varsity for four years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss a penalty kick. He did a great job putting it away.”
The hosts pushed for the equalizer in the second half when Ndayishimiye sent a nice feed to Saucier two minutes in, but Shannon got to the ball first.
The Red Riots doubled their lead with 25:02 to play when Kaurin sent a through-ball to Draskovic, who one-timed a shot past Gullbrand to the goalie’s left.
The Rams weren’t able to answer from there and South Portland went on to the 2-0 victory.
“We bounced back fine,” Kaurin said. “(Dan’s) a starter and he’s important to this team, but we have more motivation on our side now.”
“We did rally,” Hoy added. “It’s a really close group. We’ll definitely miss Dan. I don’t know how long he’ll be out, but it’ll be quite awhile. Other guys will step up. One of the things we focus on is how we play soccer, not on what the other team’s doing.”
First year Deering coach Joel Costigan wasn’t thrilled with his team’s play.
“We haven’t played soccer in the past three games,” Costigan said. “We’ve gone backwards in our playing. We have a lot of soul searching to do. It’ll start tomorrow. We need to clean up our attitudes and stay positive and overcome. We’re a far better team than we’ve played the past three games. They know to behave and how to play soccer. They know how to be a team very well, but we haven’t done it. It’s a reflection on me and on them. It’s going to get harder from here.”
Deering (12th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) is back in action Thursday at Biddeford, then goes to Scarborough next week. The Rams are seeking their first playoff berth since 2007.
South Portland (ninth in the Heals) hosts Windham Thursday and Sanford Saturday. The Red Riots also have tests remaining against the likes of Kennebunk, Cheverus, Portland and Gorham.
“We’re coming along, but we still have work to do,” Kaurin said. “I think we’re one of the top teams in the league. We have critical games coming up. Last year, we just missed (homefield advantage) It would be really big this year. It’s what we’re aiming for.”
“We’re getting there,” said Hoy. “We still have a ways to go, but I think we can compete with the top teams. We’ll find out Thursday. Windham’s one of the better teams around. That’s going to be a tough game for us. We have a lot left on our schedule. We still have a lot of teams that will win some games. I don’t really pay attention to the Heal Points until about 10 games in. I’m pleased with how we’re progressing. The guys keep coming and giving me 100 percent effort every day and that’s all I can ask for.”