After last year's 3-7 season, Fallston boys soccer coach Len Petrey had hoped this season would represent his team's rise from the doldrums.
But like the Cougars most recent game, a 4-2 loss to Howard County's Wilde Lake in which Fallston held an early lead, the season that started positively has grown progressively worse.
"We've had two key injuries to players and that's really hurt us," said Petrey, who coached the 1988 Cougars to county and regional titles. "We were down mentally after the Wilde Lake game. We had played a couple of good games and then we went downhill."
Petrey hopes players like sophomore forward Shane Dougherty, a returning Olympic Developmental regional team member, and second-year starting forward Steve Eisemann can help stop the downward spiral.
The surprise addition of two foreign students, junior transfer Chris Eatough from Manchester, England, and Ernie Cardell, an exchange student from Sweden, has added some life to a midfield that was troubled a year ago.
Fallston (1-1-1), ranked No. 16 in The Evening Sun's Top 20 last week, began the season with a 2-0 victory over last year's Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference runner-up Loyola.
The victory avenged last year's 2-1 loss but cost the Cougars sophomore defender Danny Bowers. He suffered a hairline fracture to his ankle in the game.
In its next game against Elkton, the Cougars led, 1-0, but could not maintain the lead. Elkton scored and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
That brings us to the Wilde Lake game -- Fallston's season in microcosm.
The Cougars led 1-0 and later 2-1 in the game but could not hang on.
Eisemann, who has scored a goal in all three games this season, put his team ahead 13 minutes into the game.
The Wildecats' Matt Nesbitt scored on a penalty kick to tie the game seconds before the half. Petrey said Nesbitt's goal was the result of a controversial play in the penalty box.
"(Fallston defender) Dave Luber made a sliding tackle as the clocked showed that no time was left," said Petrey. "I thought Dave tackled him cleanly but the kid was smart: He went down."
Cordell tallied for Fallston just eight minutes into the second half for a 2-1 lead.
Nesbitt and Hamisi Amani-Dove then capitalized on a pair of defensive breakdowns to score their goals within two minutes of each other midway through the second half.
"We didn't play smart the whole day," said Petrey. "Our defense was constantly leaving people running loose. And when they scored a third goal, we just quit."
With nine minutes left in the game, Amani-Dove padded the victory with his second goal.
And to top it off, Fallston suffered yet another injury with three minutes left. Senior defender Dave Bergman went down after aggravating an old back injury. Petrey is unsure when either Bowers or Bergman will return.
"We're hurting right now, but hopefully, we can come out of it," said Petrey, whose team played host to Mount Hebron Friday and won't take the field again until visiting Havre de Grace in the Oct. 2 league opener.
Defending county champion Bel Air as well as C. Milton Wright and North Harford are all expected to contend with the Cougars for the county title.
The other contenders, however, have also had early problems.
The Bel Air Bobcats (1-1) opened with a 1-0 victory over Glenelg then dropped a 5-0 decision to Oakland Mills for the second consecutive season.
Oakland Mills is the area's top-ranked team according The Sun. The Bobcats played host to No. 7-ranked Hereford yesterday and play host to the No. 2-ranked Howard Lions Tuesday.
The C. Milton Wright Mustangs (1-0) dropped its season opener, 1-0, to Overlea and plays league rival Aberdeen Tuesday.
North Harford (1-1) opened with a 2-0 victory over Kennard Dale before losing to Mount Hebron, 1-0, Wednesday.
The Hawks played host to Hammond Friday and play No. 8 Towson this Friday.