By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- The Strasburg Rams couldn't muster much of an advantage playing on their home pitch; nor could the Central Falcons profit from an excess of free kicks.
The Rams gained nothing when six Central players were hailed with yellow cards, yet lost nothing when Nick Wilson and Jordan Bowes left the game with injuries.
In fact, prolonged possessions by either team came about as frequently as goals, which is to say not at all.
None dared ask the ever-relevant question, "What's the score" on Thursday night -- everyone knew the scoreboard at Glenn Proctor Field at Ram Stadium burned the same dull numbers in the match's final minute as it had in its opening minute: 0-0.
And though the scoreless tie might imply an obvious outcome, the implications of those who actually played the full 90 minutes worth of soccer were something of an enigma, ranging from frustration, to satisfaction, to contrite contentment.
"I'm not happy with a tie," Strasburg senior Gunnar Bowes said. "I want to win -- but my team, we played great, so I'm happy with what we got.
"I can't really complain much with it."
Many on both sidelines shared Bowes' acceptance of the tie that was apparently meant to be.
Both teams felt deprived of a win, satisfied with a near-winning effort, and proud of a shutout.
Yet both are left to rue a match filled with all the hallmarks of a bitter moral victory: We out-shot them, our keeper had more saves, we played with more heart, we had more opportunities.
As Strasburg (3-2-1) and Central (2-1-1) trotted farther into the chill of a brisk Thursday night, they could think back only to the lessons to be learned, rather than the goals that weren't scored.
"Growing up, [Central versus Strasburg has] been a rivalry my whole life," Central junior Chris Black said. "You want to go out and win it. We just didn't connect as a team all the way through -- we had opportunities, but we just didn't capitalize on them.
"It's a shame we couldn't get one in."
The Falcons suffered from what Black described as a lack of tempo in their offensive third. Central's best scoring opportunity came in the fading minutes of the final overtime. On Central's 27th free kick, taken just above the penalty box, junior Marshall Brill faked a touch, then screened a shot attempt by junior Justin Mauck-Hill.
Mauck-Hill's shot sailed high over the goal, through the uprights of the Strasburg field goal post, and deep into a dark eternity.
Strasburg was perhaps less fortunate.
In the 73rd minute, Rams senior Nika Kartvelishvili scurried down the left flank and lobbed a rainbow of a shot to the crown of the goal. Central keeper Jordan Umstead caught the ball, juggled it, then fell.
The ball trickled into the goal like a spilled cup of water; Kartvelishvili was called offside; fans in both bleachers took their turn cheering their own good luck.
"This was one of our most intense games," Strasburg coach Joel Ross said. "I mean, [in a loss] against Stonewall [Jackson] last night, we were getting down in the score, and that helps intensity get lost.
"But our conditioning is coming through."
Central and Strasburg shared plenty of scoring chances, but those chances all fizzled out like a dying flame on a burned match -- if one team managed a breakaway, it was always lost to a tackle and a clear.
Strasburg keeper Daniel Wilson had seven saves Thursday night, to Umstead's eight. In addition to the six Falcons given a yellow card, two Rams were furnished with yellow warnings.
Strasburg took eight shots, and Central had nine.
"It's not easy putting the ball in the back of the net, and I think my front line sometimes freezes up when it shouldn't," Central coach Ted Poor said. "I give them their due: They played last night, we were fresh.
"I think we had a good game -- probably a tie score was a fair way of going."