The Langley High boys' soccer team has known good success over the past three years under head coach Bo Amato, qualifying for the Northern Region playoffs each year. Last year, the Saxons were one of the top teams in the region, going unbeaten during the regular season and reaching the Liberty District tournament finals where they lost a dramatic, overtime affair to McLean for their first defeat of the season. Then, three days later, the Saxons' season ended with a disappointing 3-1 loss to Mount Vernon in a first round region playoff game.
It marked the third straight year in which Langley's season had ended with a first round playoff loss at regionals. And last year's season-ending setback was even more demoralizing because the Saxons had such great hopes of making a strong region playoff run following their remarkable regular season.
This year's team, coach Amato believes, has the talent and experience to make a legitimate run at both a district and region crown. The Saxons have 20 seniors on their roster, many of whom were key starters last year. This, Amato believes, is the year Langley has to make it happen because the program will have an almost entirely new look next year.
"We've got a lot of good players," said Amato, whose team improved its early season record to 5-0 following a 4-1 Liberty District win at Fairfax High last Friday night. "It's now or never for this group."
There is lots of regular season soccer still to be played before the postseason starts up with the district tournament two weeks into May. Until then, the Saxons will likely keep an even keel and win as many games as they can. They realize their season will ultimately be measured on how they do in the playoffs.
Amato is pleased with his team's overall play thus far, but would like to see a little more fire.
"We're playing OK; I don't think we're hungry enough," he said. "I think if everyone gets on the same page and realize that this is our last year, this team could win everything. We need to say, `Hea, I'm going to work a little harder and give that extra effort.'"
LANGLEY'S WINS prior to the recent Fairfax contest have come at Stuart, 4-0, and South Lakes, 4-1; followed by home victories over Lee, 7-3, and Madison, 2-0. Of the four games, only the match against Stuart was out of the district.
Langley has received strong seasons from senior strikers Dylan Price (7 goals) and Josh Ellis (4 goals). Price has a knack at being at the right place at the right time.
"He reads the game well and arrives into the box at the right time," said Amato. "He works hard. And Ellis is a hard worker and finds ways to finish as well."
Price and teammate Jeff Cochran, a senior center back with eight assists this season, are both set to play collegiate soccer at Emory University, an NCAA Div. 3 school in Atlanta, next year.
At goalie, the Saxons have received quality play in the net from seasoned senior Jay Lupas. Unfortunately, Lupas, who struggled with offseason injuries, hurt a shoulder in the Fairfax game and will miss a few games. Kamiar Jannesari, a senior, played the final 10 minutes at goalie against Fairfax.
Amato said the Saxons are a riveting team when they are clicking and playing at their best.
"When we play a simple, smart, and fast game we're a hard team to beat," he said.
He said Fairfax, a winless team thus far, gave his team a good test. The Rebels were within 2-1 at halftime and Amato said the game could have been tied at that point.
"At the end of the first half it could have been 3-3," he said. "Both teams missed some chances."
The game remained close before the Saxons scored two times over the final 10 minutes - the first coming on a sensational 30-yard goal from Price, and the latter goal coming a bit later by senior midfielder Farhan Khan.
Price scored two goals in the win, while Cochran and Khan also found the net. Senior midfielder Nima Kassiri had two assists, while Cochran, Khan and senior midfielder Michael Beza had one each.
Langley is scheduled to play non-district games this week against visiting Chantilly on Tuesday, April 5, and at Hayfield on Thursday, April 7.
Hayfield, like Fairfax, is looking for its first win.
"Whenever you play a team that hasn't won a game, they aren't going to roll over and play possum," said Amato. "Last year we beat Hayfield 4-3."
On April 27, Langley will travel to Herndon to take on the currently unbeaten Hornets.
"That game should be a close one but it will probably be a blowout one way or another," said Anato, with a laugh. "They'll be hungry because we beat them last year. I think Herndon is outstanding. In my opinion they're the number one team in the region right now."