By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- It wasn't the long-awaited win over its county rivals that Strasburg's boys soccer team wanted, but the jubilation amongst the Rams following a 1-1 tie with visiting Central showed just how important Tuesday's performance was for the building program.
The tie was Strasburg's third in its last four games, and it came against a high-powered Falcons squad whose lone loss so far this season came to defending state champion George Mason last Friday. It has also put the Rams in position to have its best Bull Run District season ever under fifth-year head coach Joel Ross.
"Already with six points we've matched my first year of coaching, and then we have a bunch of games left to improve on that," Ross said of the Rams, who are 1-2-3 this season.
Strasburg, which has competed closely with all of its district opponents since a 1-0 win over Rappahannock County on March 22, survived an early offensive charge by Central (3-1-1) before breaking through for the tying goal in the 56th minute.
The Falcons needed little time to find the back of the net, as senior Taishi Ukai -- a foreign-exchange student from Japan -- smoked a shot from near the top corner of the box that beat Strasburg keeper Mate Gergely in the eighth minute.
Central proceeded to outshoot the Rams 12-3 in the first half and dominated possession of the ball, but Strasburg's defensive approach -- which was utilized in an attempt to compensate for Ukai's speed -- kept the Falcons from adding to their lead.
"They were packing it in there. They had six or seven guys back on defense. It's hard to beat somebody doing that," Falcons coach Ted Poor said.
"We were playing our possession game and moving the ball around. I think we had them pretty tired, to be honest with you. I thought that we'd wear them down."
Strasburg's best opportunity for a first-half goal came in the 18th minute, as Rams senior Nathan Spencer used a bicycle kick to send a perfect pass to teammate Kyle Tiemeyer, who was charging past the defense into the penalty box. But Tiemeyer's hurried shot on an open goal skipped wide right.
The Rams' luck changed midway through the second half, however, as Central defender Eric Ventura lost his footing as he tried to clear a loose ball in the box, which presented a wide-open shooting lane for Rams senior Nico Cavallini.
Cavallini -- an exchange student from Switzerland -- made good on the opportunity, as he sent a curling shot past Falcons keeper Jose Martinez and into the top left of the net to tie the match at 1-1 with 24 minutes left in regulation.
"I didn't expect to get the shot there. I just saw the ball, him slipping was kind of lucky," said Cavallini, who has scored in five of Strasburg's six games this season. "I don't even know if it was left or right foot, I just took the shot and gave it my best."
Both sides made several pushes on offense over the match's final 15 minutes of regulation in an attempt to break the tie, but both defenses stood firm.
Central outshot the Rams 10-7 in the second half, but possession was much more balanced in the final 40 minutes and overtime.
"In the first half they were able to just hang onto the ball because we gave them all that space," Ross said. "The second half we didn't give them that space. We turned up the heat a little bit and that also allowed us to get some long balls."
In overtime, Central managed the lone shot on goal, but that shot off the foot of junior midfielder Franklin Hernandez was snatched up by Gergely.
Gergely finished with nine saves for Strasburg, while Martinez had four saves for Central.
The Falcons enjoyed a 23-10 advantage in shots.
"We controlled the game," Poor said. "One slip, the guy falls down and it goes in. Soccer's a cruel game. It's a cruel game. But I'm pleased with the way we played. We did not play well against George Mason, so I'm real pleased that they came back out and they played their game. They got their composure back. We just couldn't put it in the back of the net. We outshot them, we out-possessed them, and it's a 1-1 tie -- that's soccer for you."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com