For now, at least, it appears the Langley High Saxons are the elite boys’ soccer team within the powerful Liberty District.
The Saxons defeated two of the Northern Region’s elite teams – district opponents Stone Bridge and McLean – in contests last week to remain unbeaten and separate themselves, at least a little, from their primary district challengers.
“Both McLean and Stone Bridge are very good,” said Langley coach Bo Amato, whose team, with just one week remaining in the regular season, remained unbeaten at 11-0. “We’re three teams that have a chance to do damage in the region playoffs.”
Langley, earlier last week on Monday, May 3, handed host Stone Bridge (11-1 record) a 2-1 loss. Then, four days later, the Saxons, going up against cross-town rival McLean (8-2-2), won by a same 2-1 score in a contest played on a gorgeous spring evening, in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd at McLean.
McLean coach Mike Anderson said Langley was simply the better, more physical team in the late season meeting.
“I thought they physically dominated us,” said Anderson. “To their credit, they won balls and defensively dominated us. Bo [Amato] has done a real good job with them. Our guys were pumped up for the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t really show up today. Langley imposed their play upon us.”
Langley tallied what proved to be the game-winning score with 13 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the second half when 6-foot-3 inch senior forward Jan Gundersen, from about 25 yards away off the left wing area of the field, sent a scorching liner high into the McLean net to break a deadlock and give his team a 2-1 lead.
In an instant, Gundersen, although being defended tightly, made a move to get his shot off.
“He made a great turn and shot,” said Amato. “He had a man on his back. He just turned and hit the ball.”
Langley continued to apply pressure during several rushes the remainder of the way. McLean, meanwhile, did not make a serious charge at the net over the final 13 minutes.
Langley, with the win, was given the McLean Youth Soccer Cup trophy in the moments following the game’s conclusion. The prized possession goes to the winning team of the annual rival game between the Saxons and Highlanders. Langley players representing their team in receiving the Cup were Saxons Farhan Khan, Gundersen, Roshan Patel, and Dylan Price. Anderson, the McLean coach, graciously congratulated the four Saxon players during the informal presentation.
Certainly, there is a decent chance that both teams could meet again at the upcoming district tournament set to begin next week.
“McLean and Langley is always a great rivalry,” said Langley’s Jeff Cochran, a junior midfielder. “Whether the teams are good or bad, it’s a good matchup. Playing them at districts would be unbelievable.”
Langley goalie Jay Lupas, a 6-4 junior who earned the win in net on Friday, said the already feverish rivalry between the two boys’ soccer teams has risen to an even higher level this spring.
“It’s always been a big game because it’s McLean,” said Lupas. “But it’s even bigger now because both teams are really good.”
<b>LANGLEY HAD GOTTEN</b> the better of the play throughout much of Friday’s first half and eventually broke through with the game’s first goal when junior forward Josh Ellis, off a long throw-in by Cochran from the left sideline, corralled the ball from the right side of the goal area before, from close range, sending a crossing shot into the net for a 1-0 Saxons’ lead with 9:25 remaining in the opening half.
It was a remarkably strong throw-in assist from Cochran, whose toss somehow crossed the middle of the goal area and to Ellis, who got control of the ball before getting off his close range shot.
“The ball came off the throw-in from Jeff,” said Ellis. “I had a guy on me and the ball bounced my way. I got some open space and kicked it into the left corner.”
Cochran recalled his toss being deflected before getting to Ellis.
“I threw it across as hard as I could,” said Cochran. “It skipped off one of our heads or a McLean head. When the ball got to Josh I knew he was going to score.”
Amato was relieved when his team had finally broken the ice and gotten onto the scoreboard.
"We had some chances before,” said Amato. “[On the goal] Josh stayed on his feet, composed himself and put it away.”
The score remained 1-0 the rest of the half and for 11 more minutes into the second half before McLean, to the delight of the home team fans, tied the contest on a score by senior midfielder Tim Whitebread, who took advantage of a short breakaway off the right side by finishing with an eight-yard groundball, crossing shot into the left side of the net to make the score 1-1. Earning an assist on the score was senior forward John Sims.
Just like that, McLean, which had been struggling to sustain an offensive attack all game, had burst through and hit pay dirt. It was a brand new game.
“We were shocked a little bit,” said Lupas, the Langley goalie, of the Highlanders’ score. “But we knew if we kept fighting we were still going to win.”
Sixteen minutes later, Langley regained the lead for good on Gundersen’s clutch goal. The score held the rest of the way and the Saxons continued their remarkable unbeaten season of 2010.
At the game’s final whistle, Langley’s Ellis, who was on the far side of the field in good viewing range of the visiting Langley fans, emphatically clapped his hands twice before extending his arms and acknowledging the fans with two thumbs up.
“We know McLean is a good team and that they were pumped up to beat us,” said Ellis. “But we’re undefeated and we’re on a good run. It’s always fun to beat McLean – in basketball, football or soccer. There were lots of people out here tonight.”
Langley was scheduled to conclude its regular season this week with road games at West Springfield on Tuesday, May 11 and at Jefferson on Thursday, May 13. If the Saxons can win both, they will enter the postseason undefeated.
“We knew we had a talented team,” said Cochran, of the Saxons’ confidence going into this season. “We have a good group of guys and we are tight knit. To be 11-0 is just unbelievable because soccer is a game where [you can get tripped up] and lose to anyone.”
Amato realizes the Saxons have a long ways to go for this to be the great season his team has such high hopes for. Ultimate success will come in the postseason. But the coach is certainly well pleased with the way Langley has played up to this point.
“I’m real proud of the kids,” he said.
Anderson, the Mclean coach, hopes the loss to the Saxons will help his team in the long run.
“It teaches us something,” said Anderson, of the setback. “Against bigger teams we need to be more physical. Now it’s about how we regroup.”
McLean will close out the regular season with a home game versus Stone Bridge this Thursday night, May 13 at 7.