PORTLAND—Thursday evening at Memorial Field was a celebration of soccer in the city of Portland.

And ultimately, the biggest celebration was reserved for the host Deering Rams.

Who earned a pivotal, Heal Points-rich, late-season victory over their ancient, fierce rival, the Portland Bulldogs.

On Senior Night no less.

In front of a huge crowd, including the next generation of Bulldogs and Rams stars, the first half didn’t produce much in the way of opportunities, but there would be excitement galore in the second half.

Deering went on top to stay with 33:42 to go, when sophomore Ibrahim Abdullahi set up sophomore Cristiano Afonso for the game’s first goal.


The Rams then get some breathing room with 16:40 left, as senior Benedito Nzeza finished in traffic.

But Portland came to life late, pulling within a goal on a beautiful free kick from senior captain Martin Kalala-Wasukundi with 5:19 on the clock, then junior Isaac Rodrigues-Nkanza came within inches of tying it a couple minutes later, but Deering senior goalkeeper Adao Lufumbo-Mbenza made the biggest save of the night.

With 1:02 to play, Rams senior Avery Lawrence, who helped anchor Deering’s stellar defensive effort, put it away by burying a penalty kick and Deering went on to a 3-1 victory.

The Rams, who had lost three of four, improved to 8-3-2, moved up in the Class A South standings and in the process, dropped the Bulldogs to 10-2-1.

“It was electric,” said Lawrence. “Portland’s always a big game. Always exciting. It was a very good game. I had a feeling we were going to take it, even in pregame. We had a different energy, something we haven’t seen much.”

Living up to billing


Portland and Deering last met Oct. 26 of last year when the Rams eked out a 3-2 victory in the Class A South quarterfinals.

This fall, both teams are very much in the running in a wide-open region and have shown glimpses that they could have what it takes to go all the way.

Deering opened with a 1-1 draw at Falmouth, then defeated visiting Cheverus (5-3), host Westbrook (4-3), visiting Marashwood (3-0), host Thornton Academy (4-0) and visiting Bonny Eagle (5-1) before settling for a 1-1 tie at South Portland. After a 4-2 home victory over Kennebunk, the Rams fell at home to Scarborough (1-0), dropped a 2-1 decision at Windham (in a rematch of last year’s semifinals, also won by the Eagles) and after a 1-0 victory at Sanford, Deering lost at home to Gorham Tuesday, 4-1.

Portland also started with a 1-1 tie, at home versus Gorham, then defeated host Marshwood (3-0), host Noble (4-0), visiting Falmouth (2-0), host Sanford (4-0), visiting Thornton Academy (6-0), visiting Westbrook (5-0) and host Scarborough (3-0). The Bulldogs then suffered their first setback, 1-0, to visiting Kennebunk, before bouncing back to down host Biddeford (2-0) and Bonny Eagle (6-2) and visiting Massabesic (11-0).

Thursday, on a comfortable mid-October evening (61 degrees at the start), after Deering’s 15 seniors were honored, the Bulldogs hoped to beat the Rams for the first time since a 2-1 victory in the depths of COVID Oct. 24, 2020, but instead, Deering beat Portland for the second year in a row and cut the Bulldogs’ advantage to 9-6 (with five ties) in the series, dating back to the start of the 2004 season (see sidebar, below, for recent results). That includes a Portland win-turned-forfeit in 2012.

Neither team was able to generate much in a first half that saw roughly equal possession.


The Bulldogs earned two corner kicks in the game’s first two minutes, but the first led to nothing and on the second, a shot from senior Max Kierstead was blocked.

The Rams registered the first shot on frame in the sixth minute, but Afonso’s bid was easily saved by Portland senior goalkeeper Calvin Hale.

Later in the half, Hale made a save on a long free kick from freshman Nathan Dimandya, Kalala-Wasukundi shot high, Kalala-Wasukundi had a shot blocked after a turnover, then Hale saved a Dimandya free kick to send the game to break scoreless.

The excitement ratcheted up big-time in the second half.

After Kierstead shot just wide four minutes in, Deering got the jump with 33:42 to go.

The goal was set up by Abdullahi, who sent a long ball ahead to Afonso, who ran it down, fought his way past a defender, then with Hale coming out, touched it past the keeper at the last second and the ball rolled in to make it 1-0.


“That first goal was great,” said Rams coach Joel Costigan. “That’s not a run Cristiano usually makes. We asked him to do something different today. He recognized the space and Ibrahim, who played with Cristiano on JV all year, recognized his partner to play forward at the right time.”

After Lufumbo-Mbenza punched out a Kalala-Wasukundi serve on a corner kick, he beat Kierstead to a long pass from senior Jonatas Onosaamba Calombo, then he punched out a long feed from junior Ronan Mas.

With 25:45 to play, Portland junior Francisco Samuel was taken down in the box but no call was made, much to the chagrin of the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.

Deering then doubled its lead with 16:40 on the clock, as the ball got played into the box, senior Nick Simon Mboumba sent the ball across and Nzeza got to it a split second before Hale and bodied it home.

“That was a 50-50 ball and it was a bang-bang play and Benedito got it,” Costigan said. “That was great for momentum.”

But just when it appeared Portland was finished, the Bulldogs saved their best for last.


With 5:19 remaining, after a foul just outside of the box, Kalala-Wasukundi delivered a perfect strike over the wall and to the right of Lufumbo-Mbenza and into the net to cut the deficit to 2-1.

After Lufumbo-Mbenza beat junior Paulo Joao to a Kierstead pass and kicked it out of harm’s way, he had to give every ounce of effort he possessed to preserve the lead with 2:40 to go, as Rodrigues-Nkanza ripped a blast from the goalie’s right that was headed for the net just under the crossbar, but Lufumbo-Mbenza leaped at the last second and managed to get enough of the ball to tip it over the bar and it landed on the outside netting, out of harm’s way.

Off the ensuing corner kick, Kierstead shot high and that did it for Portland’s hopes of pulling off a miracle comeback.

Then, at the other end, with 1:02 left, Deering senior Chandrel Mangele-Laza was taken down in the box, a penalty kick was awarded and Lawrence came up to do the honors.

While Hale guessed correctly, diving to his right, Lawrence struck the ball well enough to get it past him, just inside the near post, to deliver the coup de grace.

And it wasn’t just any goal, but Lawrence’s first ever.


“That was really exciting, especially on Senior Night,” Lawrence said. “I just wanted to stay relaxed. I’m used to pressure moments. We were up, so I knew if I missed that it wasn’t the end of the world. I went bottom left, the keeper chose right, but I got it there.”

“We’ve waited all season to get (Avery) that opportunity,” Costigan said. “He’s a great kid. He’s playing center-back for us this year. He’s usually a forward. He’s played every position we’ve asked him to play. He’s composed. We put him on the line and he sealed the deal.”

The Rams ran out the clock from there and at 7:05 p.m., celebrated with great zeal their 3-1 victory.

“(Portland’s) a great team with great players, but we slowed them down,” Lawrence said. “This was huge for us to get back on track. The past couple games were rough. We came back together tonight and put it away.”

“It feels great,” Costigan said. “We worked on game-planning yesterday. We stayed focused on the game plan. The guys understood what was expected. The guys were motivated to show up on time and work hard for 80 minutes. It was amazing to see Rocco’s group and our group and PAYSA (Portland Area Youth Soccer Association) and some middle school teams here. It was a special night for soccer regardless of the result.”

Deering finished with a 6-4 advantage in shots on frame and got three saves from Lufumbo-Mbenza.


Portland had a 5-1 edge in corner kicks and got three saves from Hale, but couldn’t match the Rams’ intensity.

“I just told the kids, we’re not going to be defined by one game in the regular season,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “All the credit to Deering for getting the job done. They deserved the win. Joel had them ready to play. I don’t think we put forth our best effort. It took a dead-ball goal to get us going and the last (five) minutes of the game, we were on fire, but you can’t play anyone in this league for just a few minutes and expect a good result. It was just one of those games. We just couldn’t get anything going. Whenever we hit a ball, it went to a Deering kid and they controlled the ball. They jammed the midfield, took the ball away from us. They had a couple balls go over the top and scored. We bring the best out in each other. I wish we had more brought out for us, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t have many chances, but we had some.”

One final test

It’s conceivable the rivals could meet again in the playoffs, but both have business to attend to first.

Portland (which dropped to fifth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) closes at home Tuesday versus Marshwood.

“We just have to get ready for Marshwood, then we’ll see what comes after that,” Frenzilli said. “I don’t really care where we go in, I just want the guys to feel about themselves and know they can do it.”


Deering (which has moved up to fourth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) finishes at Cheverus Tuesday.

“We just have to show up, do what we do best and play our soccer,” Lawrence said. “I like our chances.”

“This was insanely important, but I don’t want it to be the highlight of our season,” Costigan said. “We still have Cheverus and we still have playoffs and it’s going to get harder. Hopefully the guys see what we can be with dedication, commitment and passion for the game. There are a lot of good teams and we hope to save our best for last.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

Recent Deering-Portland results

Class A South quarterfinals
@ Deering 3 Portland 2

@ Portland 1 Deering 0
Portland 2 @ Deering 1

@ Portland 2 Deering 1


@ Deering 1 Portland 1 (tie)

@ Deering 1 Portland 1 (tie)
Class A South quarterfinals
Portland 1 @ Deering 0

Deering 1 @ Portland 0 (2 OT)

@ Deering 3 Portland 0 

@ Portland 2 Deering 0

Portland 2 @ Deering 0
(forfeited to a 1-0 Deering win)


@ Portland 2 Deering 0

Portland 5 @ Deering 2

@ Portland 2 Deering 2 (tie)

Portland 2 @ Deering 1 (OT)

Deering 4 @ Portland 3

@ Deering 2 Portland 2 (tie)

@ Portland 1 Deering 1 (tie)

Portland 1 @ Deering 0

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