SP scores in final minute to stun Portland

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South Portland junior Charlie Cronin lines up a shot as Portland junior Manny Yugu defends and junior goalkeeper Rowan Daligan waits to make the save. Cronin would later score with 44 seconds left in regulation to give the Red Riots a 1-0 victory.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ soccer team saved its best for last Tuesday evening and as a result, the Red Riots have positioned themselves to be a key factor in the Class A South race in the second half of the season.

Hosting rival Portland at Martin Memorial Field, the Red Riots and Bulldogs both had their chances, but neither team could score for 79 minutes.

Then, with the prospect of overtime looming, South Portland’s dazzling junior playmaker Charlie Cronin made sure the Red Riots and their fans would go home happy.

Cronin fought his way through two defenders and beat Portland junior goalkeeper Rowan Daligan with 44.2 seconds showing and South Portland went on to a stirring 1-0 victory.

The Red Riots beat the Bulldogs for the first time in three years, improved to 4-3 and dropped Portland to 5-2-1 in the process.

“It’s a huge win for us,” Cronin said. “The biggest of the season. This feels great for the team.”

In the hunt

In a season where there are several very good teams in the SMAA, but no overwhelming favorite like Scarborough has been for so many years, the door is open for a team like Portland or South Portland to make a run.

Both teams have shown promising glimpses in the first half of the year.

The Bulldogs started with wins at Cheverus (1-0), at home over Noble (5-1) and at Windham (5-0). After a 1-0 setback at Thornton Academy, Portland downed visiting Marshwood (1-0) and host Massabesic (4-1). Saturday, the Bulldogs rallied late to tie visiting Westbrook, 3-3.

The Red Riots eked out a 1-0 overtime win over visiting Sanford in their opener, then fell a goal short against visiting Deering, losing, 2-1. After a 2-0 setback at Gorham, South Portland held off visiting Bonny Eagle in overtime, 3-2. The Red Riots then lost, 1-0, at home to Scarborough before winning in their last outing, 3-1, at Biddeford last Tuesday.

The rivals have played a lot of close games over the years (see sidebar, below). Entering play Tuesday, over the past 15 years, Portland held an 11-3-1 edge, winning nine straight between 2002-10. Last fall, the teams settled for a scoreless draw at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Tuesday produced the 11th one-goal decision in the past 15 meetings between the Bulldogs and Red Riots and this time, South Portland came out on the winning end.

Both teams had chances in the first half, but Daligan and Red Riots junior goalkeeper Riley Hasson stood tall.

Cronin first made his presence felt in the ninth minute when he send a cross from junior Liam Coyne on target, but Daligan made the save.

Seconds later, Coyne got behind the defense and shot, but again Daligan made the stop.

After Daligan denied a shot from senior Princiel Kuniecki, Portland got its first chance midway through the half, but a shot from freshman Alex Millones was snared by Hasson.

With 14:58 left in the first half, a Cronin shot deflected off a defender and luckily for the visitors, rolled just outside the post. On the ensuing corner kick, Cronin, in a sign of things to come, cut through three defenders before shooting, but it was blacked by a defender.

Hasson made a highlight reel save five minutes later, diving to rob junior Quinn Clarke.

With 5:46 to play, a Millones shot was denied by Hasson.

In the 39th minute, Bulldogs senior Alex Frank got a pass in front from junior Manny Yugu, but he shot the ball over the crossbar and the game went to halftime scoreless.

Near misses continued to be the theme for most of the second half.

With 36:25 to go, Portland sophomore Pedro Fonseca fought through a defender and had a great look, but sent the ball into the net just outside the goal.

A minute later, at the other end, Cronin was denied by Daligan.

After Millones missed just wide, the Bulldogs were robbed again, as a cross from sophomore Berrick Bobe was headed toward the goal by senior Omar Daud, but Hasson made a diving save.

With 23 minutes left, the hosts almost broke through, but Daligan punched out a long free kick by sophomore Alecks Kaurin and the keeper leaped to rob Cronin on the rebound.

The next good chance came with 9:43 remaining, as Fonseca got a solid look from the side on a corner kick, but Hasson again made the save.

With 8:23 left, Cronin got past Portland junior back Sam Mermin, but his bid was broken up before he could reach Daligan.

With 5:06 to go, a long free kick from senior Khalid Suja was collected by Daligan.

As the clock went under a minute, it appeared as if the teams were going to go to overtime, but Cronin had other ideas.

Cronin the ball, cut through two defenders and just like that, found himself alone with Daligan. Daligan came out to break out the play, but before he could get there, Cronin kicked the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead with 44.2 seconds showing.

“It felt amazing,” Cronin said. “This has happened twice, against Bonny Eagle and again now. It’s the best feeling of my soccer career. It happened so fast. I do it in practice almost every day. I got that through-ball, I drove past one defender, another comes in, I did a quick cut and it was just me and the goalie and I slipped it right under him. It’s all instinct. Not being able to finish earlier made that goal that much sweeter.”

“I don’t know how he finished,” South Portland coach Bryan Hoy said. “Charlie had a bunch of one-on-one opportunities against their sweeper and he finished the one at the end. He’s a really good player. He started a few games as a freshman and as a junior, he’s at a totally different level. Last year, he was our third or fourth midfielder. This year, he’s the guy we’re trying to get the ball to. When he got the ball, I felt confident. In soccer, the more chances you get, you’ll get a goal eventually.”

“The kid took advantage of his chance and buried it,” lamented longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “We’d been equal to rotating behind and taking his move away, but for some reason at the end, it got stretched out and we didn’t have the people where they needed to be. When he came across the box, there was no one to sweep it away. He went one-on-one with Rowan and Rowan had to come out and he got his foot on the ball first. He’s a nice player, no doubt.” 

Portland couldn’t muster another shot and South Portland was able to celebrate its 1-0 victory.

“At halftime, we realized we had to pick it up,” Cronin said. “The intensity wasn’t there in the first half, but it was in the second.”

“We’ve gone to overtime twice, so I felt confident going into overtime, but I told the guys they’re taking years off my life,” Hoy said. “We did not play well in the first half and they took it to us. I told the guys at halftime, ‘We’re lucky not to be down, 3-0 or 4-0.’ We played much better in the second, spreading the field, playing quicker.”

South Portland had a 10-9 edge in shots and Hasson made nine saves, all of them key.

“Riley came up huge,” Hoy said. “Riley is very similar to (former keeper) Henry Curran temperament-wise. When the game starts, he’s a gamer. He comes up with big play after big play in baseball and basketball and he’s done that in soccer the last two years. I can’t believe he’s coming back next year. He’s already the top goalie in the conference and he keeps getting better.” 

Portland had a 5-3 edge in corner kicks and got nine saves from Daligan, but was staggered by the way the game concluded.

“For the guys to play the way they did and have it come down to that (goal), it’s tough,” said Frenzilli. “It’s heartbreaking to go through 79 minutes and lose like that. I thought we played with them and controlled the ball a lot. They were the ones who finished. I feel badly for the boys. I’ve been in these before, but the older I get, the more difficult they are to take. We had some chances.”

Second half challenges

Portland (fifth in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) has a big home test Friday versus Scarborough, then plays host to Bonny Eagle Tuesday before going to Gorham 48 hours later.

“We have to worry about Scarborough on Friday,” Frenzilli said. “We’re out of the frying pan and into the fire. We’ll come back out and work.” 

South Portland (10th in Class A South) is back in action Thursday at Westbrook, then goes to Windham Saturday and Thornton Academy Tuesday of next week. 

“I definitely think we’re still as good as the last couple years,” Cronin said. “We lost some great players, but we’re still a top five team. Hopefully we’ll build off this.”

“This is the first of seven games in 15 or 16 days, so we have a tough stretch,” Hoy said. “Right now, I think, Deering, Gorham and Scarborough are at the top, but we want to be fourth. We’re very close to those teams and I think this is a step in the right direction.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Portland senior Alex Frank and South Portland sophomore Alecks Kaurin battle for possession.

South Portland senior Princiel Kuniecki heads the ball away from Portland junior Zekariya Shaib.

Portland sophomore Pedro Fonseca handles the ball while South Portland sophomore Cooper Mehlhorn defends.

South Portland junior Charlie Cronin gets past Portland junior back Quinn Clarke, right, and senior Alex Frank, who gets a hold of South Portland senior Princiel Kuniecki in the process.

Recent Portland-South Portland results

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.