For years, soccer's detractors have rapped the sport for its lack ofscoring. A 1-0 game, they said, is boring.
But in the last several years the county's best boys teams have changed that rap. They're scoring. And scoring. And scoring.
Consider this: Before about 1988, it was not unusual for games toend with scores of 1-0 or 2-0. Most teams ended seasons accumulatinga total of only 15 or 20 goals.
But prior to yesterday's state final game, county champion Centennial already had racked up 46 goals in 15 games for the season.
And Centennial isn't alone.
Second-place Wilde Lake, also in a state championship yesterday, had achievedthe same number, also in 15 games, going into its final. The team isled by dynamic offensive players Hamisi Amani-Dove (15 goals) and Matt Nesbitt (14 goals).
And Atholton, led by the offensive duo of Tony Dedmond and David Kelley, scored 39 goals in 14 games.
"The trend is definitely toward better offensive players," Atholton coach Reg Hahne said. His team scored more than one goal in 10 of its 14 games, eight times scored at least three goals, and five times scored four or more.
In the past, the sweeper on Howard County's top team was guaranteed a spot on the first team All-State. Not this year. All six first-team players were offensive players. Centennial's 1991 sweeper, Cullen Meade, had to settle for second team All-State.
OaklandMills coach Don Shea thinks the trend toward offense started with his 1988 team, half of whose starting players were 6-feet-2 or taller. The Scorpions scored 48 goals that year and won a state title.
"Wealso had a boatload of shutouts (12), but we really didn't care thatmuch about defense," Shea said. Fullback Chris Love led that team inscoring with 10 goals.
Others believe the trend began with the 1989 Howard High team led by Todd Haskins, who scored 31 of the team's 73 goals that season.
Whichever team sparked the change, it may have marked the end of an era that began when Bill Stara took over the coaching job at Centennial. The former college goalie brought a defensive philosophy to the job that he's never abandoned, even in a year like this when offensive soccer is at its height.
Stara always felt that offense was pretty, but defense won games, and that emphasis has worked well for his teams over the years.
His defensive penchant produced two awesome defensive teams in the middle 1980s, capped bythe 1987 squad that won a state title with a 15-0 record. It allowedtwo goals that season, both given up by the second team. The Eagles outscored opponents, 52-2, that year and recorded 13 shutouts in 15 games.
Teams under Stara's direction have compiled a 126-17-5 record, including state titles in 1983, 1984 and 1987.
But many soccer enthusiasts complained about Stara's style, arguing that defense was boring.
In recent years, several new coaches have taken over programs at Wilde Lake, Atholton and Howard, and they share the belief that offense makes for exciting games and winning teams.
Games with lots of goals were frequent this season. Among the most exciting gameswere Atholton's 4-4 tie with Howard, Atholton's 3-3 tie with Centennial, and Centennial's 4-3 win over Atholton in the Class 3A, Region 3final.
"I like to see teams score," said Howard's Rudy Storch, who coached Haskins during his record-tying season in 1989.
The following year Storch frequently sent sweeper Desmond Armstrong into the offensive flow -- a highly unorthodox procedure, but one that proved to be effective. Howard went 11-1-1, won its second straight county title, and produced the best two-year record in the Baltimore area with 26-1-2.
Atholton's Reg Hahne is another offensive-minded coach who threw caution to the wind this season with star striker Tony Dedmond and talented midfielder David Kelley. Hahne frequently played withan extra offensive player, leaving the defense vulnerable.
"My feeling is that no matter how many goals we gave up we'd score more than the other team," Hahne said. His team scored 39 goals this year, the same as in 1990, when it won the state Class 2A championship -- Atholton's first.
Last year, the top four county teams each scored atleast 26 goals, topped by Oakland Mills' 55. As a whole, county teams scored a record 248 goals.
The offensive trend also has translated into player-of-the-year awards by The Howard County Sun. A forwardhas won the last two awards.
In keeping with the phenomenon of greater offense, shutouts are way down this year. Centennial had only seven compared to 13 in 1987. Wilde Lake also had seven shutouts this season.
And the great players simply don't seem to be playing defense anymore. In the past, outstanding players like Chris Williams of Wilde Lake, Chris Love of Oakland Mills, and Chris Mills, David Rosenstein and Mike Rotsel, all of Centennial, made defense a glamorous position.