PORTLAND - The Thornton Academy boys soccer team knew they were in for a tough game, but seemingly it had been that way for the last few weeks. Defense and timely goalkeeping helped them get further in the playoffs than ever before, but on Saturday, October 28, their season and historic playoff run ended with a 2-1 loss to the Portland Bulldogs.
"The boys played to the last whistle and as a coach, I couldn't ask for more," said Andrew Carlson, their longtime coach. "I am proud of them and proud of the season they had."
Thornton came into the game after defeating the No. 1 seed, South Portland, 4-1 in penalty kicks on a rainy and cold evening earlier in the week.
"That game was exhausting on many levels," Carlson said. "My hope was that there wouldn't be any carry over to this game."
During the first 10 minutes of the match against Portland, most of the action was in Thornton's defensive zone. But that was a style of play the Golden Trojans seemed comfortable with. Time and time again during their playoff run, the young team from Saco found themselves nearly backed up to their own goal.
At Fitzpatrick Stadium, on a day that was the epitome of a fall sports afternoon - clear, cold, and with just a hint of the weather to come in the air - the Golden Trojan defenders clamped down on the Portland forwards and cleared the ball from their own end of the field. Goalkeeper Travis Snyder came up with save after save and started his team on a counter attack.
Senior defender Zach Ahmida and his teammates keep the Portland offense away from the Thornton goal. (photo - David Arenstam )
But with about four minutes left in the first half, that manner of play ended and Portland scored as Samuel Nkurunziza, a junior midfielder, out jumped the TA defenders on a corner kick and headed the ball into the back of the net.
The Portland varsity boys team scores the first goal of the contest after 35 minutes of scoreless play.
"You've got to give them credit on that goal," Carlson said. "They had to execute perfectly on the corner kick, and they did."
Portland and Thornton played evenly as the second half started and the TA defense seemed intent on keeping the Portland forwards as far away from the net as possible. After five minutes, Portland retained possession of the ball and once more crossed midfield and attacked the defense. Berrick Bobe, a junior forward, sent a blistering, low line drive shot toward the left corner of the net from nearly 30 yards.
"Travis dove, but the ball was perfectly placed and just out of his reach," Carlson said.
Thornton was now down by two goals and many teams might have decided then and there that their season was over, but the boys kept playing.
"From that point forward, we certainly pressured their defense," Carlson said and smiled despite the outcome of the game.
That pressure and that attitude paid off and 21 minutes into the second half senior Brogan Searle-Belanger raced down the left wing as Jose Manuel Toraya, a sophomore midfielder, carried the ball down the right wing. About 10 yards from the front of the goal Toraya crossed the ball and Searle-Belanger didn't hesitate. He hit a one-time shot toward the net with his right boot and beat the Portland goalkeeper.
Brogan Searle-Belanger and his teammates celebrate their second-half goal. (photo - David Arenstam)
The Thornton team now trailed by only one goal, but time and the clock had become their enemy. It was their turn to try and dial up the pressure and attack the Portland defense.
Coach Andrew Carlson giving senior midfielder Owen Hey some last minute instruction before putting the ball into play. (photo - David Arenstam)
They had a number of opportunities and shots on goal, but in the end, the Thornton boys could not score another goal. Portland successfully finished the game and will now play in a semi-final game for the state Class A Championship, a game Thornton still dreams of someday playing.
"We competed. We weathered the storm and then fought back," Carlson said. "Each one of the boys should hold their head high. We’re playing in late October and playing well. Our young players, our underclassmen, should remember this and hopefully this will motivate them when they take to the field next season."