Madison’s Raegan Cowen (3) fakes out Carrabec goalkeeper Macie Plourde during Wednesday’s game in Madison. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

MADISON — In any new adaptation of a sport, you might expect a learning curve that slows teams down as they grow accustomed to a new game.

Well, through the first several games of the 2023 season, that hasn’t exactly been the case for the Madison girls soccer team. The Bulldogs have dominated the new eight-player format early on, starting 5-0 to emerge as early Southern Maine title contenders.

“We’re a lot more confident this year,” said Madison junior defensive midfielder Leila Dunphy. “I definitely think eight-man has given us a lot more confidence. We worked hard last year, but it’s hard when you don’t have as many players (as the other team).”

Madison, as Dunphy noted, is already accustomed to playing short-sided soccer. With a thin roster a year ago, putting only eight or nine girls on the pitch became the norm for the Bulldogs, who still managed a 7-8 season in Class C South — pretty good for a team at a numbers disadvantage.

The biggest adjustment, then, hasn’t been Madison adjusting to its own self; it’s been adjusting to other teams. The Bulldogs were as talented at the top as anybody last year, but it didn’t show as they had to choose which players to leave unmarked and could never match their opponents’ fresh legs.

“It’s definitely been a lot more even out there, and we’re capitalizing on it,” said junior forward Raegan Cowan. “I think that’s been the biggest adjustment for us, just having that even matchup. We didn’t see that a lot last year, and now that we’re getting that, it’s a huge difference.”


It’s definitely showed thus far for Madison, which has scored 48 goals and allowed just three through five games. Before posting a 6-2 victory Wednesday against rival Carrabec, the Bulldogs had defeated Lisbon 9-1, Wiscasset 14-0, Dirigo 10-0 and Searsport 9-0.

Wednesday’s victory over Carrabec marked the first time Madison had played a full game this year. With eight-player soccer playing 60-minute games rather than 80, the eight-goal mercy rule takes effect after 45 minutes rather than 60 minutes in 11-on-11 play.

“I’ve been waiting for us to play 60 minutes of soccer all season,” said Madison head coach Kayla Carrier. “I’d like to see every game be 60 minutes long. … (The shortened game) seems really short to me — I think we’ve got the lungs for more minutes at half — but we’re really just happy for any opportunity.”

It’s not easy to average nearly 10 goals a game, but it’s also hard not to get offensive production when you have a forward with the pace of Cowan. The junior, whose speed and technique make it very difficult for opposing defenders to keep up, led the way with four goals in Wednesday’s win.

Madison’s Ella Haynie (5), back center, fights to get to the ball through Carrabec’s Mary Emery, lower right, as Carrabec keepr Macie Plourde (11) makes the save during Wednesday’s game in Madison. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

As for defending, that part of the game can be a bit harder for eight-player teams, as opposing attackers have more room to roam the field. Yet as Madison has shown with its minuscule goals-against total, putting the ball past the Bulldogs isn’t something opponents will find easy.

“We’ve had Kylee (Furbush) and Ali Griffeth rotate between the offensive center-mid and defensive center-back positions,” Carrier said. “That’s helped us have fresh lungs when we need it, and it’s really helped us on defense. They’re really key for us to holding down that back center.”


At both ends, the Bulldogs are finding they have more space than they did in 11-player soccer. Dunphy said the team has been able to make more passes with fewer opponents clogging the midfield, and Cowan has noticed that it’s been easier for her and teammates to charge forward.

“We can fill the field a lot better, and we also have a lot more room to make runs,” Cowan said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing, us having more room to make those runs. We’re making some long runs into the corners and using that space, and we’re also playing to feet.”

Madison players, Cowan and Dunphy agreed, felt they were poised for a big season as soon as they found out they’d be playing in the eight-player class. In addition to no longer being shorthanded, the Bulldogs are no longer playing strong Class C foes such as Hall-Dale, Monmouth/Winthrop and Mt. Abram.

Sure, there will be new challengers that arise in the eight-player ranks, but when they come, Madison won’t be at a disadvantage merely by being on the field. Able to focus on playing to their strengths rather than simply trying to keep up, the Bulldogs have found themselves thriving.

“It’s forcing us to come out every day and play our game,” Carrier said. “We’re finding in eight-man that the gap in the middle of the field gets pretty large, and it’s really forced us to play the ball to the flags and wait for those good crosses. That’s made us a better soccer team.”

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