Even though his Meade Mustangs began the season with an 0-2 record, midfielder Eric Washington knew his soccer team was better than that.
"We knew we had skilled players," said Washington. One of the losses was the Mustangs' season-opener, 3-2, against Howard County's Atholton, among the metro area's top teams.
Washington was right. Eight games later, the Mustangs (6-3 overall, 4-2 against the league) are still alive for the playoffs.
In last night's 2-0 victory over the host Arundel Wildcats (5-4, 3-3), Washington took an assist from Rodney DeConti just four minutes into the game and scored his first goal of the season.
For Washington, the goal couldn't have come at a better time.
"I've had opportunities all season long. I knew I could score," said Washington, a junior. "Tonight, I just capitalized on the first opportunity that I had."
The Wildcats were forced to play a man down with seven minutes left after defender Scott Penland was ejected for dragging down DeConti in the box. Just over a minute later, DeConti took a pass from Bryan Mitchell on the far side and scored his 11th goal of the season for the winning margin.
The victory was the Mustangs' fourth straight since losing to unbeaten North County, 4-1, and was critical with three games left, including Broadneck tomorrow and county power Severna Park in the regular-season finale on Oct. 26.
"I didn't have to tell them how critical this game was -- they knew," said third-year Meade coach Dean Harrison. "Arundel has always been our rivals. We just wanted to control the midfield and set the pace early, and I think we did that."
Indeed. For the game, the Mustangs had an advantage in shots (14-2), including a 9-1 advantage in the first half.
The Wildcats played well at times, but could not get off a good shot.
Each team failed on two second-half corner-kick opportunities, but the Mustangs had four good shots on goal.
Several Arundel drives looked promising at first, but often were broken up or faded in the final third.
"We've played well all year, but I've tried everything to get better shots. Honestly, I'm at a loss," said Arundel's 13-year coach Nick Jauschnegg. "We came out flat, and nothing seemed to work."
The Wildcats' best chance came when Anthony Fiaschetti (two goals) collected a loose ball near the midfield stripe and streaked down the right side in an apparent one-on-one with Meade keeper John Gratson.
But just inside the box, Mustangs' defender Malcolm Allen stormed in from the right side and banged the ball out of play.
The Wildcats regrouped and began to play like they had for most of the game.
Washington, DeConti (11 goals, two assists), J. J. Grewe (four goals, four assists) and defender Larry Sancomb (three, three) pressured the goal with dangerous cross-field passes and an effective short passing game.
"We knew we could control the game. We frustrated them," said DeConti, who spent this past summer honing his skills in his native Brazil. "Instead of getting frustrated ourselves, we played our style and kept them out of the game."