PORTLAND—South Portland boys’ soccer coach Bryan Hoy has marveled at the development of junior striker Divin Mpinga.

Friday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, the rest of us got to see what all the excitement’s about.

Playing at Cheverus in the teams’ season opener, Mpinga left Stags defenders in his wake and scored goals in both halves to lead the Red Riots to a confidence-building victory.

After some near misses, Mpinga opened the scoring in the 30th minute.

Late in the first half, Mpinga was brought down in the box and South Portland had a chance to double its lead on a penalty kick, but senior Joey Perron’s bid was denied by Cheverus junior goalkeeper Wyatt Roy’s diving save to seemingly give the hosts momentum.

But just 62 seconds into the second half, Mpinga struck again and with the Red Riots defense holding the Stags in check, South Portland was able to go on to a 2-0 victory.

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“We got off to a fast start and put a lot of pressure on them,” said Hoy. “We believe we’re a very good team, so we anticipated this was the way the game would go. We know Cheverus is really good, but we feel we’re very strong as well.”

Journey begins

A year ago, Cheverus scored just seven goals in 10 games and finished 2-8, but this fall, the Stags are primed to return to top contender status.

South Portland also posted a 2-8 record in 2020 and also appears to be much stronger than it was.

In the teams’ meeting last season, Cheverus prevailed, 1-0.

Friday, on a picture-perfect early September afternoon (72 degrees at kickoff), the Red Riots carried play much of the day and beat the Stags for the first time since the 2018 season.

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Mpinga first made his presence felt in the eighth minute as he raced toward the goal, but Cheverus senior back Nick Nason broke up the rush at the last minute.

In the 18th minute, Roy denied Mpinga after the striker made a nice move past a defender.

In the 22nd minute, Mpinga sent the ball to junior Jack Dreifus, who headed it on target, but again, Roy made the save.

After the Stags’ first shot, a long bid from senior Brady Hoglund, was snared by South Portland junior goalkeeper Thomas Caouette, Roy denied Mpinga and Perron had a shot blocked.

With 10:45 to go in the first half, after a long run, Cheverus junior Carter Hoglund had a shot saved by Caouette and the Red Riots transitioned the other way to offense.

Twenty-two seconds later, Mpinga passed the ball to senior Sam Kierstead, who gave it right back to Mpinga, who slipped past a defender and this time, Roy could do nothing to stop him as Mpinga fired a shot into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

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“The beginning was (frustrating),” said Mpinga. “We just had to keep working. I gave the ball up and received the ball back and I scored. I tried to shoot down low and use a lot of power. It felt good.”

“(Divin) spent the offseason working hard and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a player go from where he was at last year to where he is this year,” Hoy said. “He’s played premier (soccer) and he’s understanding positioning better and where to be at the right time and it’s shown.”

“He’s a good player and he capitalized on our mistakes,” said Cheverus coach Bill LeBlanc.

Late in the first half, Carter Hoglund missed just high for the Stags.

Then, with 1:20 left before the break, Mpinga was tripped up in the box and the Red Riots had a chance to double their lead on a penalty shot.

Perron hit it well, low and to Roy’s left, but Roy dove and made a spectacular save to preserve the 1-0 score.

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Late in the first half, Cheverus junior goalkeeper Wyatt Roy dives to rob South Portland senior Joey Perron on a penalty kick late in the first half. Hoffer photos.

“Their goalie was outstanding,” said Hoy. “That PK save was amazing. Joey struck a nice ball, but he got to it. That kept us from putting it away.”

In the first half, South Portland enjoyed a 6-3 edge in shots on frame and took two corner kicks to Cheverus’ one, but the game was still very much in doubt.

While it appeared the Stags had momentum when the second half started, the Red Riots wrested it back almost immediately.

After a save by Roy, the keeper tried to clear the ball, but it came right to Mpinga and Mpinga pounced.

With 38:58 to go, before Roy could get back in position, Mpinga fired a low shot past the diving goalie and in for a 2-0 advantage.

“The goalie didn’t kick it out long and it came to me,” said Mpinga. “I was surprised. I just tried to score as fast as I could. I’ve played a lot of soccer since last year and I wanted to get better. I played Maine Lightning and went to the gym to change my physique.”

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“Wyatt will own (that goal),” said LeBlanc. “He made a great save to keep us in it, then he didn’t clear it out. That’s the hard part about playing goalie. A mistake leads to a goal.”

The Stags best chance came two minutes later, when Brady Hoglund sent a long feed ahead to Carter Hoglund, but Hogund’s shot was denied by Caouette.

Down the stretch, Mpinga tried for a third goal, but twice Roy made saves.

Roy also denied Perron and junior Joel Kiala Luzolo.

South Portland ran out the clock from there and celebrated its 2-0 victory.

South Portland junior goalkeeper Thomas Caouette is congratulated by his teammates at the final horn of the Red Riots’ 2-0 victory.

“I was impressed that we didn’t have any dip in intensity after we scored or before we scored,” said Hoy. “We played at a high level the whole time. That was great to see.”

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The Red Riots out-shot the Stags, 13-4, and had a 5-3 edge in corner kicks. Caouette made four saves and got plenty of help from his defense, as Cheverus had few good looks at the goal.

“We have a strong back line,” Hoy said. “Those four guys are seniors. They’re all big and physical. Thomas had one really nice save. As good as our offense is, I think our defense is as good, if not better.”

Roy made 11 saves for the Stags, but they couldn’t generate any offense.

“South Portland is good,” LeBlanc said. “They have some good players and they took advantage of a couple of our mental errors. Their two best players outperformed our two best players. (Mpinga and Perron) dominated the game.”

Long road ahead

Cheverus has a pair of road games awaiting it next week, Wednesday at Portland and Friday at Marshwood.

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“We had a really good summer and scored a lot of goals and thought we were all that, but we came out here and saw it’s not going to be easy,” LeBlanc said. “We want to be good October 1st. It’s a process for us. We need to get better defensively and come together as a group.”

South Portland is back in action Wednesday when it opens the home portion of its schedule versus Windham.

“We’re working hard this season and we believe we can win this year,” said Mpinga.

“We wanted to start with a win, especially since we only have one game this week and just one next week,” said Hoy. “When you don’t have a lot of games, you want to make sure they’re wins.”

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

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