By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- It was a moment when Swiss precision combined with good old American ingenuity on Friday night.
In a game host Strasburg had little chance of winning against perennial state contender Manassas Park, the Rams flashed a combination that has the potential to confound even the best boys soccer teams on any given night -- slick-passing forward Nico Cavallini, a foreign-exchange student from Switzerland, and senior team captain Nathan Spencer.
Those two hooked up several times to create dangerous scoring opportunities, and finally broke through in the second half for a goal. It wasn't enough, not against the Cougars -- Manassas Park's unrelenting pressure produced a slew of goals over the final 40 minutes in a 6-1 victory.
It could have been closer, and Cavallini was the main reason why. Deployed in a counter-striking role, Cavallini twice sent dazzling passes from the midfield ahead to Spencer for solid opportunities in the first half. Neither materialized into goals, but both were dangerous chances.
"His vision of the game and his ability to control the ball and set those balls up for Nathan -- if there hadn't been so many offsides calls, he might have had several more goals," Strasburg coach Joel Ross said of Cavallini. "Not that we would've beaten them -- we're not in the same class as Manassas Park and we haven't been for years -- but we've got the potential to be there in a few years."
Alex Flores put the Cougars ahead with a long-ball goal against Rams goalkeeper Mate Gergely -- a foreign-exchange student from Slovakia -- with 21:45 left in the first half. But despite outshooting Strasburg (0-1, 0-1 Bull Run), 11-1 over the first 40 minutes, that one-goal lead is all Manassas Park could muster by halftime.
Flores struck again four minutes into the second half when his rising blast skipped off Gergely's fingertips and into the net.
The Rams nearly got a goal back with 18:31 to play when Kyle Tiemeyer and Cavallini worked through the Cougars' defense to get a one-on-one chance to Spencer, but an offsides call wiped out his goal.
Manassas Park (1-0, 1-0) answered with two more goals over the next seven minutes, both by Jason Martinez, to firmly take control.
Then with 9:22 to play, that connection of Cavallini to Spencer finally paid off for the Rams. Cavallini set up the chance with another pinpoint through ball. Spencer had to beat a defender and Manassas Park's goalkeeper to the ball, which he did with a header to his own foot before slicing a shot into the net.
"I think the goal really gave us some motivation for the second half," Spencer said. "We let down a little bit, but I think if we keep up the intensity we can do stuff like that all season."
The Cougars kept up the pressure, adding goals by Pedro Gallegos and Ronald Peterson. Manassas Park outshot the Rams, 27-3, and forced Gergely into making nine saves.
"I feel like we played better against them than we have in past years," Spencer said. "There's still room for improvement, as there always is. I think next time we play them, we'll be prepared for what they have to offer and hopefully we'll play a lot better."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>