WESTBROOK—The Rams charged to an early lead – Sam Burghardt did the honors, notching two goals in the first 15 minutes – vs. the Blazes on Friday evening, Sept. 1. Burghardt’s bang-bang assault kicked off a high-output game for Gorham, who ultimately prevailed 6-1.
“Obviously we’re always happy to get a win at the beginning of the season,” Rams head coach Tim King said. “We’ve got a lot of kids in different positions from last year, and getting some experience, so we’re still a growing team, and we weren’t as good as we wanted to be tonight. But we made the plays we had to make.”
“I don’t think we played an awful game,” said Westbrook senior Captain Ryan Shackley, a middie. “Gorham had some easily-prevented goals, if we figure out who we’re marking. Just the little things.”
Burghardt’s initial strike – a shot to the top-left corner of the Westbrook cage – came a mere 3:15 in. His second followed 12 minutes later, when he arced a soft header up and over Blazes keeper Jacob Brackett, 2-0.
“Everybody’s got a new role, whether it’s a new position or not,” King said. “Like, Kyle (King) is up front, but he doesn’t have Jackson Fotter with him anymore.” Fotter, one of the State’s top players in recent years, graduated in June.
“Sam Burghardt has moved up front,” King went on. “Andrew Rent moved from the back into the midfield…As the season goes on, we’ll get more comfortable and execute better.”
“Our passing wasn’t great tonight,” King said, asked to elaborate. “The choices we were making – where to pass the ball, when to pass the ball – and then, even when we made the right choice, the execution of the pass didn’t seem great. But maybe that’s first-game jitters.”
The Blazes also stymied Gorham’s efforts at times. “Westbrook did a good job defensively,” King said. “They were pressuring the ball pretty hard; you don’t have the time to make the plays you want to make. So it just wasn’t crisp for us. But the effort’s there.”
“Everybody’s expectation is to win; the kids have a great mentality for that,” Westbrook head coach Vince Aceto said. “But our focus was on, this was the first game of the year, and we faced probably the toughest team in the SMAA, if not the State…So the coaches were focused on, ‘Let’s get a set situation going, this set group of players in the right positions.’ See where the components would happen, where players would be most effective.”
Aceto described some of Westbrook’s personnel experiments: “We had some position play that, we moved guys around, and we put them back to their original position as the game went along. We took some kids that were playing defense last year, moved one kid up to striker; just saw, throughout the match, that it wasn’t working. He wasn’t comfortable where he was.”
“We won a lot of balls out of the air,” Shackley said, asked what he and his teammates did well. “We’ve just got to pick up the second ball – we were winning the first one, not getting the second. We possessed pretty well in the middle of the field and made some good runs. Our sophomores stepped up big; we have a lot of sophomores. Mohamed Mohamed played great up top, (Ahmad Qasem) played great up top. We’ve just got to work on the little things, the short marks and stuff like that.”
Nine minutes after Burghardt’s second tally, Gorham spoke up once more: Brackett lingered a little too long, a little too far out of net, and Ram Nolan Brown snuck past him and nudged a loose ball home for three-zip.
Seven minutes after that, Westbrooker Caleb Barlow posted the Blazes’ only point of the night, a redirect off a corner kick.
It was one of few quality chances Westbrook managed to hang on Gorham netminder Trevor Gray. The Rams’ middies and their defense – long a point of pride for King and Co. – held the Blazes admirably at bay for most of the evening.
“The idea is to win the game, whether its 1-0, or 2-1 or whatever,” King said. “We just want, every time we step on the field, we want to win the game. If we don’t give up any goals, we can’t lose, so we want to focus on defense, and then we’ll pick our spots and hopefully we can have enough firepower to put some goals in and win some games.”
“I’m hoping Kyle (King) can score quite a few,” Tim King said, asked where he expects his scoring to come from. “Andrew Rent from the midfield will generate a lot of opportunities. We probably won’t be beating teams 4-0 or 5-0. It might be 2-1 or 2-0. I don’t think we’ll score as many goals, but I do think we can wear teams down. We might be a little more physical than we were last year.”
Kyle King, in fact, added Gorham’s fourth of the night, a blast past Brackett with just 6.1 seconds remaining before the break. The Rams put up two more in the latter half: one by Rent, midway through, and another by Colby Christakis with 5:40 to play.
Tim King took a moment to applaud a few more of his boys. “I thought – Michael Knight is a first-year starter in the backfield, played really well. Kevin Mollison, another first-year starter out on the wing, played really well tonight. Those two stood out in my mind. And then Trevor Gray…did a good job tonight for his first time in the net.”
Aceto valued the early-season test against one of the best squads in Maine – Gorham, after all, were State Runners-up last year. “I told them, ‘This is a good measuring stick for you, because you’re going to see where you have to bring it to the next level now,’” Aceto said of his boys.
Shackley echoed Aceto’s sentiments. “I like that we saw them first off, though; it gives us a good look at where we’re at now and where we need to be, come later on in the season – because we’ll probably catch them in the playoffs. Hopefully.”
“Devin Cyr came in at right fullback in the second half,” Aceto said, asked who played well for him. “We had him play against Kyle King, man-mark him; there’s probably a one-foot difference in height, and he held him at bay beautifully. Jean-Marc (Lohomboli) played well up at striker after taking him out at mid – that was one of the position changes we were thinking about. But we moved him up to striker, much more comfortable – he’s a natural striker.”
“This is a good wakeup call,” Shackley said. “I’m glad we got it early. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll take the little things we need to figure out, figure them out in practice tomorrow, figure them out on Monday, and we’ll bounce back pretty good.”
Gorham jumped to 1-0 on the season, while Westbrook slipped to 0-1. The Rams host Deering on Tuesday, Sept. 5; the Blazes travel to Massabesic that same night.
Adam Birt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Gorham Captain Aaron Farr boots a ball forward.
Gorhamite Sam Burghardt battles Westbrooker Grayson Post.
Caleb Barlow scored Westbrook’s only point of the night.
Ram Kevin Mollison unwinds into a kick.
Westbrooker Cooper Mullett and Gorhamite Andrew Rent clash.
Westbrook’s Jean-Marc Lohomboli eyes a midair ball; Gorham’s Garrett Higgins swoops in to defend.
Kyle King (Gorham) and Liam Cooledge (Westbrook) vie for a header in midair.