Portland senior Gracien Mukwa heads the ball away from Falmouth sophomore Mason Quiet during the Yachtsmen’s 4-2 victory Tuesday night.

PORTLAND—Falmouth’s boys’ soccer team prides itself on not getting rattled, so after personnel changes and navigating the fits-and-starts of trying to play during a pandemic, an early deficit against rival Portland wasn’t able to faze the defending Class A champion Yachtsmen Tuesday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Falmouth surrendered the game’s first goal, but answered with four in a row, from four different players, and went on to a 4-2 victory over the Bulldogs in the teams’ mutual season opener.

After falling behind in the 12th minute, when Portland senior Sublime Kitenga’s shot took a tricky bounce past senior goalkeeper Tanner Daniels, the Yachtsmen immediately answered off a corner kick, which was finished by senior Sam Gearan.

Senior Rion Dos Santos, who assisted on the first goal, then put Falmouth ahead to stay, when he finished a Gearan pass in the 33rd minute, giving the Yachtsmen a 2-1 halftime advantage.

Early in the second half, after a Bulldogs’ shot hit the crossbar, Falmouth got some breathing room when senior Willie Parker buried a long free kick and a little over a minute later, junior Mason Farr scored on a rebound.

Junior Alexandre Tchibassa got a goal back from Portland, but it was too little, too late and the Yachtsmen opened with a 4-2 victory.

“This was our first game together as a team with this group,” said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan, who won his 397th game in what is now his 34th season with the program. “We hadn’t played anybody and with all the distractions, I thought we did well.”

Getting started

Tuesday marked the long-awaited opener for both squads, who each had fine seasons a year ago.

Of course, no one could match what Falmouth accomplished, going 15-2-1 and capping things off with a surprisingly-decisive 5-2 victory over Lewiston in the Class A state final.

Portland, meanwhile, finished 11-4-1 after a 2-1 setback at Gorham in the Class A South semifinals.

Portland won the regular season meeting a year ago, 1-0, at Falmouth (on a goal from Alex Millones) to take a 3-2-1 all-time lead in the series, which has already produced some instant classics (see previous results, below).

Tuesday, on a very pleasant late-September early evening (68 degrees with intermittent sprinkles in the first half), the Yachtsmen demonstrated that while some names and faces might be different, their ability to put the ball in the net and win hasn’t changed a bit.

Both teams had some good chances in the game’s first 10 minutes, as Portland senior goalkeeper Henry Flynn denied Gearan and Farr and Bulldogs’ junior Steve Matanga hit the post and Daniels denied senior Anselmo Tela on a free kick which deflected on frame.

With 28:49 to play in the first half, Portland struck first as an innocent looking shot from Kitenga, from just inside the midfield stripe, picked up speed, then bounced more quickly than Daniels expected and rolled into the net before a Falmouth defender could get to it, putting the Bulldogs ahead, 1-0.

Portland then had a couple great chances to double its lead, but Mukwa’s serve on a corner kick slid through the box untouched and a long Mukwa free kick was snared by Daniels.

Then, with 21:57 remaining before halftime, the Yachtsmen drew even on a perfectly executed set piece.

Dos Santos took the corner kick from the goalie’s left side and served it in front where Gearan beat a defender to the ball and headed it into the net to tie the score, 1-1.

“We maintained our cool when we fell behind,” said Dos Santos. “We know what we’re doing. Coach trains us to remain calm in every situation. (Sam) told me he was running front post. I should have had him twice in this game.”

“We know we’ll be in every game, so we don’t panic,” Halligan said. “That comes from last year’s experience. Rion makes things look easy and makes it easier for everybody.”

The game remained deadlocked until 7:35 remained on the first half clock, as Gearan played the ball up the right side, then he crossed it in front to Dos Santos, who despite having to go into a slide after losing his balance, managed to steer the ball into the net to give Falmouth the lead for good.

“I got tripped up a little bit, but thankfully, I hit it decent and it went in,” Dos Santos said.

The Bulldogs had one great chance to draw even before halftime, in the 36th minute, but Daniels made a sensational diving save on a low shot off the foot of Matanga and sophomore Jackson Boyd cleared the rebound, keeping the score 2-1 Yachtsmen at the break.

In the first half, Portland had a 9-5 shots advantage, but eight Daniels saves, along with a couple perfect finishes on offense, had Falmouth on top.

Portland senior Anselmo Tela and Falmouth sophomore Mason Quiet battle for the ball.

Finishing it off

Just 89 seconds into the second half, the Bulldogs again almost tied it up, but Tela’s floater clanked off the crossbar and Matanga’s rebound bid went wide.

From there, the Yachtsmen opened it up.

With 24:37 left in regulation, a hand ball was called on Portland in front of the Falmouth bench and before the Bulldogs could set up defensively, Parker struck a perfect shot that Flynn, lunging to his left, couldn’t reach and the score was 3-1.

“We want to be opportunistic,” said Halligan. “We can’t control what the other team does, just what we do.”

Just 72 seconds later, Dos Santos almost had a second goal, but his shot hit the far post. Fortunately for the Yachtsmen, the rebound came right out to Farr and he wouldn’t be denied, finishing for a 4-1 lead.

Portland did make things interesting with 11:55 to play, as Matanga’s cross was sent home by Tchibassa to cut the deficit to two.

The Bulldogs had one more chance to really tighten it up, but Tela couldn’t get enough on Matanga’s promising cross to finish.

Falmouth ran out the clock from there and celebrated its 4-2 victory.

“It felt great (to play) after everything (related to COVID-19),” Dos Santos said. “Honestly, I was a little unsure I’d ever get out here again. I didn’t want to not play as a senior. I’m really happy.

“We knew it would be a tough game, so we prepared like it would be the toughest game on the schedule.”

“I don’t know if there’s any other team better than (Portland),” Halligan said. “They’re good.”

Daniels wound up saving 10 shots.

The Bulldogs got six saves from Flynn and ended with a 12-10 shots advantage, but couldn’t make enough of them count.

“It felt good to be out here, but unfortunately, we had to open against the defending champs,” lamented longtime Portland coach Rocco Frenzilli. “I thought we played as well as we could have played in the amount of time we had to get ready. Falmouth’s always prepared, ready to play. They got the goals. Hats off to them. We had some chances. Balls roll weird ways. We wanted to see if the kids could fight through it and they fought to the end.”

Each team took two corner kicks.

Renewing acquaintances

Portland is idle until Thursday of next week, when it plays at South Portland.

“We have seven games left and we’re happy to be out here,” Frenzilli said. “We’ll see how it all goes. The guys want to win. We want to compete and do well. There’s a lot more soccer left.”

Saturday evening, Falmouth plays its home opener against reigning Class B champion Yarmouth. The ancient rivals haven’t met in a countable game since 2016. The Yachtsmen then face other one-time fierce rivals Greely and Cape Elizabeth.

“It’s a little sad that we won’t be able to defend (our state title), but it’s still a nice feeling to come out and play,” said Dos Santos. “We’ll try to win every game. I’ve played with a lot of kids from those (other) teams. Those should be fun games. We’re all looking forward to it. It should be fun on Saturday. We’ll train hard and hopefully get the win again.”

“We’re playing for pride,” Halligan said. “We talk about culture in our program. We want to be the best we can be. Some guys are playing next year at a higher level, so they’re training for that. Other guys, this is their last chance, so they want to make the most of it. Some of these guys missed sports in the spring, so they know what it is to be shut down at any time. We play day-by-day with our hearts. Nothing’s guaranteed. We want to play good teams. The wins and losses will take care of themselves.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Previous Falmouth-Portland results

2019
Portland 1 @ Falmouth 0

2018
@ Portland 0 Falmouth 0 (tie)

2017
@ Falmouth 1 Portland 0 (OT)

2016
Class A South semifinals
Portland 3 @ Falmouth 2 (4-3 PKs)

2015
Class A South quarterfinal
@ Falmouth 1 Portland 0

2013
Western A quarterfinal
@ Portland 3 Falmouth 0

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