PORTLAND—Even though the names, numbers and faces change, you can only keep the Scarborough boys’ soccer juggernaut down so long.
Tuesday evening, the Red Storm took their show to the bright lights of Fitzpatrick Stadium to face a Portland Bulldogs squad pegged by some to be the stiffest challenger to the two-time defending Class A champions.
While Portland hung tough throughout, Scarborough erupted for three second half goals in just under six minutes and went ahead to stay when junior Andrew Jones scored in the 48th minute. The Red Storm went on to a 3-1 victory, their 38th in a row over the past three seasons.
“I feel pretty good,” said Scarborough coach Mark Diaz. “It’s a big win for us. We can grow on this. We played really well in the second half.”
The Red Storm have gone undefeated in winning the past two titles and haven’t lost a league contest in over five years (Sept. 6, 2005). They had no problem in their opener, blanking visiting Massabesic 5-0, behind three goals from sophomore Austin Downing and one each from seniors Conner Gullifer and Brett Leighton. Senior Kevin Philbrick added a pair of assists and sophomore Nick Bagley and Jones had one each. Senior goalkeeper Peter Moore stopped two shots.
Portland, a semifinalist in 2009, which lost, 7-2, to Scarborough in that round, was coming off an impressive 5-1 home win over Thornton Academy Saturday. In that one, freshman Tony Yekah scored twice and senior standout Fazal Nabi had a goal and two assists.
Tuesday night, both teams had chances in a scoreless first half.
In the seventh minute, Leighton fired a low shot that Bulldogs senior goalkeeper Taylor Mannix managed to save. Mannix later stopped two point blank shots, one by Leighton after a deflection in the box and another (this one highlight reel material) on a header from senior Matt Graef off a corner kick (the Red Storm had an 8-3 edge on the night). For Portland, Nabi and senior Feliks Cobanovic both had a couple good chances in the first 40 minutes, but couldn’t convert.
The contest then opened up big time in the second half.
Just over two minutes in, Downing threatened to put the Red Storm on top when his header in the box off a cross went just wide.
With 36:37 to play in regulation, Downing delivered the game’s first goal, firing a low blast through a screen to the right of Mannix, who didn’t see the bid until it was too late.
Undaunted, the Bulldogs tied the score with 35:13 to go. Nabi didn’t have much breathing room on the night, but did find enough space to fire a blast that deflected off Yekah past Moore to make it 1-1.
That would be all the offense that Nabi could muster.
“We man marked him, which I don’t think is unusual for him,” Diaz said. “It was Philbrick on him. If he’s out, we switch someone else. We didn’t want to double him and take away from what we do. We wanted to make him work.”
The tie didn’t even last three minutes. With 32:26 remaining, Jones and a Portland defender raced for a long clearing pass. Jones got to the ball just past midfield, fought off the defender and raced upfield. To his shock, he saw Mannix coming out of the goal and Jones calmly sent a shot past the goalie into the net for a 2-1 advantage.
“We knew the game would be determined in the second half,” Jones said. “When the ball got played over, on the long clear, I saw no one was behind us. I saw it was just (the defender) I had to beat. I just put it toward the goal. I didn’t think the goalie was coming until he charged. I was surprised. I just kept it low and on target. I saw it the whole way.”
“We talked at halftime about being more patient,” Diaz added. “We were getting good shots. I told the guys to settle down a little bit. I thought after we got a goal, we played really well.”
Just a minute-and-a-half after Jones put Scarborough on top, Gullifer gave his team a little breathing room as he one-timed a cross from senior Mike Wofford into the net to make it 3-1 with 30:53 to play.
The Red Storm’s underrated defense did the rest as Philbrick, with help from classmate Peter Rizzi, put the clamps on Nabi the rest of the way and Scarborough went on to the 3-1 victory.
“It’s really exciting,” Rizzi said. “We just kept (Fazal) facing his own goal and stayed in front of him. You can’t let him turn. We only doubled him on throw-ins.”
“We came into this game knowing it would be a tough battle,” Jones said. “We had a bunch of guys step up and deliver. We all worked hard and knew what we needed to do.”
While Diaz was happy with his team’s performance, he mentioned plenty that needed to be improved.
“We got tired,” said the coach. “It’s the second game of the year. We haven’t been pushed like this. We had guys cramp up. We know we have to get better. We have to mature emotionally. That will be corrected, I guarantee it.”
Portland discovered that it has clearly closed the gap, but still has a way to go to be among the league’s elite.
“I thought it was a well played game, pretty even, but when you have breakdowns against a team like that, they’ll make you pay,” lamented longtime Bulldogs coach Rocky Frenzilli. “We came back after going down and got one, but you had a feeling in a game like this that whoever broke the tie that would be the difference.
“(Scarborough’s) not the defending state champs for nothing. They’re still solid and do great things with the ball. Their first touch is so good. We got caught with a lot of balls in the air, around our chest and head, and with their pressure, you can’t do it. You have to have ball to feet or they’ll take the ball away.”
Portland hopes to bounce Saturday morning when it goes to Windham, a regional finalist in 2009.
“We’ll regroup and come back,” Frenzilli said. “I told the kids that this doesn’t define us as a team. What matters now is how we rebound from it. We’ll see what we can do against Windham on Saturday and that won’t be easy.”
Beat goes on
Scarborough continues to be the gold standard for boys’ soccer. While this year’s team is different, it’s still very, very good.
“Every team’s different,” Rizzi said. “You can’t repeat anything. We lost some good kids, but we have solid young kids who can come up and play.”
“We’re just trying to prove ourselves one game at a time,” Jones added. “We go at it like any other game. We’re not looking to defend titles, just go out and win games.”
The Red Storm are back in action Thursday at South Portland.
“South Portland won at Westbrook (in their opener),” said Diaz. “They’re going in the right direction. It’s a tough place to play. We’ll have to get ready for that.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Scarborough senior Colin Cain heads the ball away from Portland senior Feliks Cobanovic during second half action Tuesday night.
Portland junior Ben Day has little room to operate amid Scarborough junior Andrew Jones (10) and sophomore Austin Downing.
Scarborough senior Matt Graef and Portland freshman Tony Yekah sky during Tuesday’s battle.
Portland freshman Tony Yekah (center) celebrates with his teammates after his goal on a deflection tied the score at 1-1 early in the second half.
Scarborough senior goalkeeper Peter Moore soars to handle the ball while Portland senior Feliks Cabonovic closes in and Red Storm senior defender Colin Cain holds him at bay. Scarborough won the showdown, 3-1, its 38th successive victory.
More photos below.