1 Deering: The Rams won 11 games before being upset in the Western Class A quarterfinals. Do-it-all midfielder Stephen Ochan was the player most often mentioned by other coaches as a top player in the league. The stout and veteran defense is led by All-SMAA pick Jonathan Bujambi and All-SMAA goalie Anthony Russo, and includes Christian Castaneda and Jonata Mbongo. Bujambi is also a threat moving forward. Joel Costigan’s squad has made steady improvement over the past three seasons. With heavy graduation losses hitting Scarborough, this could be the Rams’ year to move up.
2 Scarborough: But really, does anyone count out the two-time defending (four in the past six years) Class A champs? Certainly opposing SMAA coaches do not. Midfielder Sam Ware and center back Ian Corey are the only returning starters, while Jerry Kenney and Matt Caron will move from reserve to starters in the midfield. Coach Mark Diaz thinks sophomore forward Noah Stracqualursi (five goals as a freshman) is set for a breakout season.
3 Gorham: The Rams went 12-4-1, reached the West semifinals a year ago and return plenty of talent and speed. “They remind me of Scarborough’s 2013 team,” Deering Coach Costigan said. Midfielder Cody Elliott is coming off a 12-goal sophomore season and should get even more help from sophomore Jackson Fotter (four goals). Senior Cole Houghton is the defensive rock. Seniors Nate Roberts and Matt Hooker, and sophomore Tyler Richman are also key returners. “We should be very competitive and look to make a deep run in the tournament,” Coach Tim King said.
4 Portland: While the Bulldogs’ may not have Deering’s star power, Coach Rocky Frenzilli has 13 returners and strong players at every position. Junior Sam Farr leads a midfield unit that includes classmates Josh Irving and Brady Cyr. Senior Haron Habibzai (five goals) is the leading returning goal scorer. Oliver Brochu heads an experienced defense that has senior Connor Bruce.
5 Falmouth: After winning nine Class B titles from 2000-2012, a young Falmouth squad went 9-5-2, losing in the West quarterfinal in its first Class A playoff trip. Veteran coach Dave Halligan returns a strong group, led by seniors Luke Velas (15 goals), Ben Lydick, Jake Grade, Gabe Mahoney, Aidan McGrory and John McConnell. Falmouth will again be tested regularly in home-and-away Western Maine Conference battles with Cape Elizabeth, Greely and Yarmouth.
6 Yarmouth: Coach Mike Hagerty will miss a group he called “one of the best senior classes in school history,” but believes the trio of seniors Ben Vigue, Connor Lainey and dangerous striker Adam Labrie will lead a young and talented bunch right back into the regular contention role. Juniors Patrick Grant (MF) and Walter Conrad (D) will also be critical components. Going unbeaten in the regular season again is unlikely but making a return to the Western B final against Greely or Cape Elizabeth is possible.
7 Greely: Similar to Scarborough in Class A, the Class B champs did lose significant pieces, including the Class B Player of the Year Matt Crowley. But Coach Mike Andreasen’s five returning starters are strong, particularly big-game striker Jacob Nason (30 goals in two seasons) who has scored in five of his six career playoff games. Senior back Harry Schain is excellent in the air and returns as the Rangers’ spiritual leader. Midfielders Ben Ingraham and Hunter Graham, and back Lucas Watt are also returning starters. “Defensively we’ll be OK,” Andreasen said. “My biggest concern is scoring goals. We need that second option to support (Nason).”
8 Cape Elizabeth: The Capers bring back a pair of Maine Soccer Coaches Association Western B all-stars in Eddie Galvin and Griffin Thoreck, and a second-team WMC all-star in Noah Haversat with expected scoring coming from returnees Cole Caswell and R.J. Sarka. “Cape will be the overall favorite because of its returning players,” Yarmouth Coach Mike Hagerty said. The question will be whether a year’s experience, especially for sophomore defenders Connor and Owen Thoreck, will turn close games into wins. Cape went 5-5-4 last year, won its quarterfinal, then lost 5-0 to Yarmouth in the West semifinals.
9 Mt. Ararat: Coach Rick Renaud expects his team to be highly competitive for two very good reasons: He has 16 seniors and “it’s probably the most highly skilled team I’ve ever had.” Mt. Ararat won the Eastern A title in 2012 and went 10-4-2 a year ago, reaching the semifinals. The strength of the team starts in the back with keeper John Roux, sweeper Mike Crawford, and outside backs Chris Pepin and Dan Pelletier. Robbie Small is a proven scorer with 13 goals in each of his first two seasons. “Our goal is to get to the Eastern Maine final and see what happens. If we don’t get there we’ve underachieved,” Renaud said.
10 South Portland: The Red Riots deserve the preseason accolades. The same can be said of Class A contenders Cheverus and Noble, and three-time reigning Eastern B champ Camden Hills. South Portland gets the final nod because it suffered less in terms of graduation losses and added a potential top player. Waynflete transfer Khalid Suja, a midfielder, will team with his brother Ahmed Suja (seven goals, four assists) to form a potent attack. Coach Bryan Hoy thinks he has one of the league’s best keepers in second-year starter Henry Curran and five other players with starting experience return from last year’s 9-6-1 squad.