By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- For a span of a few minutes at the end of the first half and one fairly giddy halftime break, Strasburg High School's boys soccer team had visions of a benchmark victory.
After pulling within a goal of state powerhouse Manassas Park in the closing minutes of the first half, the Rams had plenty of confidence heading into the final 40 minutes against the Cougars.
But with just less than 20 minutes to play, Manassas Park's Gerardo Ramirez slipped past Strasburg's defense and hit a slicing shot past Rams goalkeeper Jonathan Kloosterman for a upset-deflating goal, and just more than four minutes later teammate Cristian Rivas added the exclamation with another goal off a Milton Gomez assist as the Cougars pulled away for a 5-2 victory on Tuesday.
"We didn't come out expecting to win, but there was that moment there in the [first] half when we got up to 3-2 and it felt like we could actually, potentially win this," Strasburg coach Joel Ross said. "To even just have that point the game against a team like this, where 'OK, we could win this,' that felt great."
Strasburg (0-4, 0-2 Bull Run District) understandably didn't feel much confidence in facing Manassas Park, the 2011 state champion and state runner-up last year. Ross said his teams have never scored more than one goal against the Cougars in his tenure at Strasburg, let alone beat them.
Manassas Park's Alex Flores opened the scoring with a run through the penalty box, finishing with a shot to the right past Kloosterman with 25:17 left in the first half.
The Cougars nearly struck again with about 14 minutes to play, when Gomez dashed through the box and snapped off a shot that the 6-foot-3 Kloosterman blocked with his leg.
Then with 11:16 to go in the half, the Rams got on the scoreboard when Darren Price gathered in a centering pass from Oscar Berglund in the penalty area. Price split a pair of defenders, then tapped a shot that went just inside the left post past goalie Daniel Morales for the tying score.
Gomez struck for his first goal nearly five minutes later, gathering in a pass from Yan Larenas in the box before spinning around for a shot on Strasburg's empty net.
Just more than a minute later, Larenas got a goal of his own with a blast from the top of the penalty box that got past the onrushing Kloosterman.
With four minutes left, Price gave the Rams that glorious halftime feeling with his second goal of the game. Teammate Domenico Lubrano lofted a pass into the penalty area, and Price eased up just enough to avoid an offsides call. Instead, he created a one-on-one against Morales and beat him with a rising shot into the upper right corner.
"I was a little worried when he got a touch on it," Price said. "It went in, so that's all that matters."
Kloosterman, who had eight first-half saves and 13 overall, was extremely busy. He even stopped a penalty shot with a little more than 15 minutes to play, rejecting a blast by Manassas Park's Ramirez. But the Cougars kept up the pressure, outshooting Strasburg 13-2 over the final 40 minutes and 33-11 for the game..
"I think we didn't improve in the second half, but they did," Price said. "I think if we would've stayed even we could have put some more in and won it, but they shut us down and really figured out what we were doing right in the second half. We couldn't find a way through their defense because they sat back more in the second half."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>