Both the Langley and Mount Vernon High boys' soccer teams have known their share of overtime games at the Northern Region playoffs over the past two years. A year ago, the Majors defeated Langley in a first round region playoff overtime affair before falling to Robinson in double overtime in the quarterfinals.
At this year's regionals, both teams won first round overtime playoff games last Wednesday, May 25 — the Majors ending Robinson's season, 2-1, and the Saxons eliminating T.C. Williams, also by a 2-1 score.
It was probably quite fitting then, that the two non-district foes — Mount Vernon from the National District, and Langley of the Liberty District — would once again, in last Friday night's region quarterfinals playoff meeting, go beyond regulation play.
Langley, in a game interrupted late in the first half by a lightning/thunder storm, avenged last year's postseason heartache defeat at the hands of the Majors by ending Mount Vernon's season with a 2-1 double overtime victory. The game took place in front of a modest, but enthusiastic crowd at Langley.
"This was our third overtime [playoff] game in a row," said Langley senior striker Josh Ellis, who was including Langley's recent district tournament finals 3-2 overtime win over Stone Bridge, on May 20. "Last year we had high expectations and losing in the first round [at regionals to Mount Vernon] was hard on all of us. Losing to them last year motivated us."
Langley led Friday's game at halftime, 1-0, before Mount Vernon tied the contest at 1-1 with a score midway through the second half. Later, Langley scored what proved to be the game-winner three minutes and 45 seconds into the second, five minute overtime session when sophomore striker Justin Galiani, off a long, picture perfect cross-field pass from teammate Alex Bruton, sent a low liner shot from the left side into the back of the net from 18 yards out to put his team ahead, 2-1. The Saxons then held Mount Vernon off for the remaining 1 minute and 45 seconds to secure the dramatic, hard-fought win.
"Alex served the ball real soft to me," recalled Galiani, of his game-winning score. "I got a good chest on it [to knock it down]. Then I just thought of getting off a solid shot."
The hip-high shot went into the near-post left side of the net.
Langley, with the win, improved its season record to 15-1-2. The Liberty District champions, under head coach Bo Amato, were scheduled to meet West Springfield High in a semifinals game on Wednesday, June 1 at Robinson Secondary.
Mount Vernon, with the loss to the Saxons, finished its season 14-3. The young Majors, who two weeks ago lost in the National District tournament finals to champion Washington-Lee, will lose just two starters to graduation — midfielder Ruben Alvarez and part-time starting goalie Kevin Moran.
"We've had a great year," said seventh year Majors' head coach Bobby Garza. "This team has shown its heart, determination and skill."
Garza said most of his team's opponents, including Langley, were physically bigger than the Majors, who offset that factor by utilizing their outstanding team quickness. While Mount Vernon was able to defeat Langley at last year's regionals, it came up just short of doing the same this season.
"This is tough for us," said Garza, of the season-ending loss.
Several of the Majors have played with or against Langley's players over recent years as members of select programs such as McLean Academy, Team America, and Great Falls.
LANGLEY BROKE a scoreless deadlock just beyond the midway point of the first half when a deflected ball found its way into the net. Nima Kassiri, a senior midfielder, set the score up with a crossing shot from the left corner of the field. During a flurry of action in front of the net, the ball ricocheted off a player and went into the goal with 18 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first half.
Later in the first half, several streaks of lightning resulted in the officials halting the game with 2:04 left in the half. Several minutes later, after players, coaches, officials, and fans had been asked to clear the stadium, there was a huge downpour of rain lasting about 30 minutes. Players had gone into the school while most fans returned to their vehicles in the parking lot. Ultimately, after the rain had stopped and the nighttime skies had cleared up, players returned to the field and warmed up for another 30 minutes. The thick natural turf field, despite the soaking, appeared to be in fairly good shape. The game, which had originally begun at 7, picked up again at about 9:15 with the final couple minutes of the first half. A brief five-minute halftime followed before the teams began the second half with Langley still ahead 1-0.
Mount Vernon, which had limited scoring chances in the first half, played with renewed vigor in the second half, putting more sustained pressure on the Saxons' defense. Midway through the half, the Majors got onto the scoreboard when sophomore forward Erik Rodriguez, on a free kick attempt from 20 yards out off the right wing, sent a beautiful shot high into the far side of the Langley net to tie the game at 1-1 with 19:59 showing on the clock.
It was another playoff goal for Rodriguez, who scored in all five of Mount Vernon's postseason games this spring.
"Eric sized it up and made a great shot into the corner," said Garza, of the equalizer against the Saxons.
BOTH TEAMS would continue to work hard for scoring opportunities with neither squad finding the net again throughout the remainder of regulation play and through more than eight minutes of overtime before Langley finally got the goal by Galiani in the second OT.
Both goalies — Langley's Jay Lupas and Mount Vernon's Lucas Belanger — played outstanding games in denying several good scoring chances throughout the night. Outstanding defensive play for Langley came from junior defender Rhys Howard and senior Jeff Cochran, among others, while Mount Vernon's defensive corps of Damaro Dacosta, Cedric Ekoye, Ishmael Castro, and Hatzael Diaz had strong games.
Ellis, Langley's star striker, said the Saxons stayed strong even after Mount Vernon had tied the score midway through the second half.
"It's important to keep your head up," he said. "We all know we are the best team in the region. Mount Vernon has heart. They're definitely a young team and skilled."
Langley got goals from Ellis and Howard in the Saxons' first round region playoff win over T.C. Williams earlier last week at Langley. The Saxons, who had been disappointed in their first round loss to Mount Vernon the year before, had their hands full against a tough and underrated Titans' team, coached by Martin Nickley, which entered regionals as the No. 4 seed from the Patriot District.
"I think they're better than a No. 4 seed," said Ellis. "They gave a good showing."
Langley, which entered the season as one of the top teams in the state, has the ultimate goal of winning a state title later this postseason. If the Saxons can defeat West Springfield in this week's region semifinals, they will, along with reaching the region finals, automatically qualify for the following week's state tournament.
"This year, our goal is to win the state," said Ellis. "We know that's tough to do."
But certainly not out of the question for Langley.
"Langley has all Division 1 [college caliber] players who are very big, fast, and strong," said Garza, the Mount Vernon coach. "Playing them allowed us to raise our level of play."