LEWISTON — Kevin Albert stood in front of overflowing bleachers on Wednesday evening as he watched the Class A North boys’ soccer championship game between Lewiston High and its clearly outmatched opponent, Hampden Academy. Albert, a co-captain on the 1991 Lewiston team that played for the state title, spoke with pride and admiration about a program that has changed considerably since his playing days.

“Completely different, and not just the obvious,” he said of the 2015 squad, which features players of Somalian and Congolese heritage, among other cultural backgrounds. “Just in the skill, the speed, the ball movement. They’ve got such great chemistry.

“I’ve honestly never seen a high school team, at least in Maine, that’s as skilled as these guys are.”

Few teams in the nation are as talented as Lewiston, which will face Scarborough, the southern Maine champion, for the Class A state championship Saturday at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Blue Devils are 17-0, having outscored opponents 113-7 this season. They have not allowed a goal in three playoff games.

Lewiston is ranked 22nd in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, which combines with USA Today on a weekly poll. Since the poll began in 1989, only two other Maine boys’ soccer programs have cracked the list: Brunswick made it to No. 18 in 1990 and No. 16 in 1996; Falmouth rose to ninth in 1997.

Albert’s teammates in 1991 were named King and Parkin and Bagley and Johnson. This year’s leading scorers are Abdi Shariff-Hassan and Maslah Hassan. The Abdulle brothers, Zakariya and Abdulkarim, are superior defenders. Maulid Abdow executes a breathtaking sideline throw that involves a front handspring before flinging the ball to the middle of the field.


Nick Gilpin, a senior striker for Hampden Academy, spent much of Wednesday’s game observing from midfield as the Blue Devils danced through the offensive zone.


“The way that they pass the ball is so much better than any team I’ve ever seen,” he said after Lewiston’s 4-0 victory. “If somebody was keeping track of possession, they probably had the ball 90 percent of the time.”

“And they’re all unselfish. None of ’em cares who scores. They had four goals and it was a different person every goal. It’s fun to watch, but at the same time you’re like, getting mad … because they’re just passing it in circles around us.”

Shariff-Hassan, one of the Lewiston captains, counted six nationalities on the team. Noralddin Othman is from Turkey. Timo Teckenberg is a German exchange student. Three players come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The majority are from Somalia, or their parents grew up there and wound up in a sprawling refugee complex called Dadaab in Kenya to escape civil war in Somalia.

“We all grew up in the same refugee camp,” said senior Dek Hassan of himself and seven teammates. “We knew each other before we came to America.”


They arrived in Lewiston at different times, but have been playing together for years, throughout middle school and in all kinds of weather. Hassan spent his freshman and junior years across the Androscoggin River in Auburn at Edward Little High but returned to Lewiston this fall.

“It’s been great building up a team from different cultures and different people and then making one big team that has one goal,” said Shariff-Hassan, who was 7 when he moved to the United States, first in Louisville, Kentucky, and then Lewiston in 2008.

Abdijabar Hersi, a 2008 graduate of Lewiston High, now coaches the freshman team. He was one of four Somali players on the 2007 team. His father, Abdullahi Abdi, coaches the eighth-grade team and worked for the Somali Olympic program.

“Anybody who has kids in the school system is talking about the soccer team,” said Gary Veilleux, 45, a 1988 graduate who played football and has daughters in first and ninth grade and was leaning on a fence watching the victory over Hampden. “It is a pretty special group.”

Veilleux spoke of emerging from hockey games at the nearby Colisee in the dead of winter. “And you look outside and you’ll see these guys playing soccer,” he said. “They’re playing 24/7, 365 days a year. They’ll play in the snow.”



Lewiston has won state titles in football, hockey, basketball and cheerleading but never in soccer. Albert’s coach in ’91 was Mike McGraw, now in his 33rd year. He has a raspy, hoarse voice and used it frequently during practice Thursday afternoon.

“Move the ball faster,” he yelled. “Play faster!”

The influx of African immigrants to Lewiston began in 2001 and has not always been smooth. The acting mayor wrote an open letter to the Somali community in 2002, discouraging further immigration and saying that “Our city is maxed out financially, physically and emotionally.”

Four years later, a frozen pig’s head was rolled into a local mosque. Just last month, signs widely viewed as racist targeted mayoral candidate Ben Chin, who will face incumbent Robert Macdonald in a runoff election.

“I know that sometimes … people just look at Lewiston as a second-class city,” McGraw said. “Do I think we’re a little special because of all the kids that I have who are multinational? That’s unique. But as far as the community goes, I think they just like to have us represent them and represent them well with sportsmanship. We need to show the best … because our kids are under the microscope much more than any other team is.”

Although several schools in Greater Portland have teams that include soccer players of African heritage, Lewiston has the largest and most talented group. Inevitably, there may be those who resent the team’s success.

“There’s always such a negative connotation, not just because it’s Lewiston and whatever they make of that, but just the makeup of our team,” Albert said. “They don’t understand what good kids they are and how much they love this and how much they put into this. They don’t see what good students they are. My wife (teaches) a number of these kids in classes and they work hard. They just want to do well.”

On Saturday, Albert will don the faded No. 19 jersey he wore as a player and climb into the stands at Fitzpatrick to cheer for what he hopes will be a history-making day for his old school. “If we can have one bright spot about Lewiston,” he said, “this is as good as it gets right here.”


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