The Gorham High boys’ soccer team had plenty to celebrate last fall en route to its second Class A South championship in three years. This year the Rams have lost star Andrew Rent, far right, to a season-ending injury but are still in the mix for the division title. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Based on the regular season, the Class A South boys’ soccer playoff games are going to be close — no matter which teams are playing each other.

Adrian Friedman has helped Falmouth get off to a 9-0-1 start this fall. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve never seen it like this,” said Mark Diaz, in his 21st season as Scarborough’s coach. “Usually you would have five or six teams and a top two or three in that group of six. This year there’s eight, nine, maybe even 10 teams that could beat anyone on any given night.”

In games involving the 12 teams slated for the playoffs, 25 of 44 (57 percent) have been ties or one-goal games. The average margin of victory is 1.68 goals.

The last two games for No. 1 Scarborough (8-0-3) have been typical A South contests. The Red Storm rallied with two late goals to win at No. 2 Kennebunk 4-3 last Monday, then gave up the tying goal at home in the final five minutes in a 3-3 game with No. 6 Marshwood (8-2-2).

Most teams have three regular-season games left. Tim King, coach of defending regional champion Gorham, expects a mad scramble as teams compete for a top-four regular-season finish to earn a first-round bye.

“If you have to play a prelim game, even a No. 5 vs. No. 12, that’s not anything anybody wants in this league,” said King, who believes eight, maybe nine teams could win the regional title. “And I’m not just saying that. I really believe that could be the case.”

From 2008-18 only five schools won the A South title. Scarborough has been a factor throughout, winning five regional and four state titles (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013). Portland and Gorham have each won two regional titles. Windham (2011) and Cheverus (2014), both coached by Colin Minte, were state championship teams.

Among the seven teams with at least seven wins this fall, No. 2 Kennebunk (9-0-1), No. 4 Falmouth (9-0-1), No. 5 South Portland (7-3-1) and Marshwood have never won a Class A regional title, though Falmouth was a longtime Class B powerhouse and Marshwood was a two-time Class B state champion.

South Portland’s Anthony Perron tries to slow Scarborough’s Parker Killiard during a game earlier this fall. The Red Riots are fifth in the Class A South Heal points; Scarborough is No. 1. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

South Portland Coach Bryan Hoy said, “Some of the teams, us included, about 10 years ago were not competitive with the top teams. Now I think us, and Marshwood, and some of these teams are right there with the top teams every year.”

In Class A North, it’s a different story. Lewiston, winner of three of the past four state championships, stands 10-0. Brunswick is 10-1. Camden Hills is the only other team with more than five wins.

Westbrook and Portland serve as good examples of the depth and unpredictability in A South. The Blue Blazes have bounced up and down in the bottom half of the playoff-bound teams and are currently No. 8 with a 5-3-2 record. They beat Gorham and drew with Scarborough. They also were thumped by Marshwood 4-0, and played to a 2-2 tie with No. 12 Noble.

“Those two games, we had a couple of injuries and we tried out a new system against Noble, and Noble’s right on the cusp,” said Westbrook Coach Vince Aceto. “We were understaffed but don’t discredit Marshwood. That team is 11 strong on the field.”

No. 7 Portland (8-3), the 2017 regional champ, was tabbed by several coaches in the preseason as the most likely team to unseat Gorham. Consecutive midseason losses to Scarborough and South Portland dropped the Bulldogs in the standings. But with games left against Kennebunk, Marshwood and Falmouth, Portland has ample opportunity to move up in the Heal point standings.

There are several reasons for the increase in quality teams.

Kennebunk’s Max Murray has joined the Rams this fall after playing for a development team in recent years. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

As Hoy suggests, it starts with the improvement of programs such as Kennebunk and Marshwood. Both teams have been helped by seniors Max Murray (Kennebunk) and Owen Bynum (Marshwood) opting to return to high school soccer after playing for Seacoast United’s Development Academy teams.

“When you add players of that caliber (it) helps with the overall product,” said Kennebunk’s sixth-year coach, Greg Cavanaugh. “Both programs have been coming. We’ve gone from being a 4-10 team to last year was our first winning season since like 2012, and this year obviously getting over that hump has been nice to see.”

The season-ending knee injury to Gorham senior Andrew Rent, the returning Varsity Maine Player of the Year, also changed the dynamic of the league. With Rent leading a band of returning, high-quality players, the Rams would be the clear team to beat. Without Rent they are still in third with an 8-2-1 record and last week posted convincing shutout wins against South Portland and No. 11 Thornton Academy.

“I still think we’re a very good team and if anyone counts us out, I think they’re overlooking us, but Andrew Rent is a difference maker. He just is,” King said.

“”I think everybody knows the league is wide open this year,” says Scarborough’s Zachary Chaisson, foreground. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“I think everybody knows the league is wide open this year so everybody’s fighting for their spot,” said Scarborough junior Zachary Chaisson. “They know they can make a name for themselves and make a name for their team.”

With each passing season, more teams feature players with significant club experience.

“Everyone is playing premier soccer now so it’s year-round, and everyone’s just building and the programs are building. I’ve noticed that,” said Gorham senior midfielder Kyle Hamblen.

South Portland’s Hoy put it this way:

“I was a pretty good player in high school and I wouldn’t make our varsity team. I’d be a JV player as a senior. I wouldn’t play for us. We’re just that good,” he said.

King said the influx of student-athletes immigrating from other countries to the greater Portland area is a factor.

“They’ve brought a whole new flavor to this league, which has brought a lot of talent in, and if you don’t bring up your own talent up, you’re going to get left behind,” King said.

Cavanaugh points to the coaching staffs across Class A South.

“We have so many great coaches in this league that are invested in their programs, that work hard to make it better,” he said.

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